20: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause –
“Ratification of international trade agreements
(1) An international trade agreement may not be ratified unless it enables the United Kingdom to require imports to meet standards that are equivalent to the principal standards laid down by primary and subordinate legislation in the United Kingdom regarding food safety, the environment and animal welfare.
(2) The condition in subsection (1) does not apply if the international trade agreement is with one or more least developed countries and, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, is seeking equivalence on standards which would present an unfair impediment to trade for the country or countries concerned.
(3) The Secretary of State must by regulations specify which of the standards laid down by legislation in the United Kingdom regarding food safety, the environment and animal welfare are principal standards for the purpose of subsection (1).
(4) Regulations made under subsection (3) are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.
(5) In this section “least developed countries” means any country on the United Nations Committee of Development’s List of Least Developed Countries, as amended from time to time.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause ensures that UK standards regarding food safety, the environment and animal welfare cannot be undermined by imports produced to lower standards.
Lord Grimstone of Boscobel later responded for HMG: Amendment 20 seeks to prevent the ratification of FTAs unless there are provisions that ensure that imports under those FTAs comply with the UK’s domestic standards for food safety, animal welfare and the environment.
As noble Lords know, the Bill is principally concerned with continuity agreements, which we have now signed with 63 partner countries. It is rather cheering that each time I speak from this Dispatch Box that number has crept up. I should emphasise to noble Lords that none of those agreements has led to a lowering of domestic standards. Cheap food is not flooding our market. Workers’ rights are not being undermined. All we have done is deliver on our central objective of providing continuity for businesses and consumers.
The amendment has unintended consequences that its signatories have not addressed. It could, I am afraid, jeopardise the UK’s ability to meet its WTO commitments. WTO rules constrain the ability of the UK to restrict imports based on criteria such as animal welfare and environmental protection. These WTO rules play an important and balanced role in containing disguised protectionism, but inevitably mean that there is a real risk of a WTO dispute if we do not handle these important matters with care.
Establishing the amendment as a negotiating objective has the potential to create great uncertainty and undermine continuity for businesses at an already critical time. I know that noble Lords would not wish this. It may of course jeopardise the implementation of continuity agreements, including those already signed but not yet ratified. Let us not forget that UK businesses have a long history of trading under these agreements and rely on them for stability and certainty. Any delay to implementation will impact the import of goods on which businesses and consumers are dependent. Furthermore, the noble Baroness’s amendment could result in similar measures being deployed by trade partners with regard to UK exports. That could prevent UK producers from being able to export goods overseas until they had demonstrated that they had met the domestic standards of our trade partners.
However, we of course understand the importance of this issue and the Government have established a number of initiatives to ensure that any concerns around agriculture and the environment are addressed at each stage of the negotiation processes. This includes: public consultations ahead of new trade negotiations; increased engagement with agriculture and agri-food stakeholders; establishing the trade advisory groups; and of course passing an amendment to this Bill, placing the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing.
To which I replied: I had not understood just how devastating the impact of my amendment would be. I think there might have been a tiny bit of scaremongering in that. He also said so far, so good—but we all know that it is early days and we have a long way to go to get the sort of trade deals that we really want. We need the protections that we are asking for. We have had this debate a lot and the Minister knows full well how the majority of the House feels.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I particularly enjoy the interventions of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, whom I very much enjoy clashing with. I should like to say to her that it is absolutely true—I do not trust this Government. I am in awe of her unswerving loyalty to them, especially in view of the fact that in the other place our Prime Minister stands up, makes all sorts of promises and then reneges on them. How she maintains her loyalty is absolutely astonishing.
However, we have had this debate many times. I do feel that the Government just do not understand the depth of feeling on this issue, not just in the House but among the general public, farmers and all sorts of producers. Ignoring this issue is a terrible mistake.