1 Lord Udny-Lister debates involving the Department for Business and Trade

Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (IAC Report)

Lord Udny-Lister Excerpts
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, like every other speaker, I welcome this debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the chair of the International Agreements Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for enabling it. I also thank them for enabling us to talk about the importance of the CPTPP and the way in which it will deliver for the entire United Kingdom, including all the devolved authorities.

I want to address specifically the geographical context of the UK’s accession and the future role of the CPTPP, as well as how to ensure that British business is fully engaged with it. Before doing so, I draw attention to my declaration in the register of interests, particularly my work for the bank, HSBC.

On the geographical situation at play, I do not think I need to remind anyone in this Chamber that we live in the most uncertain of times—times in which the security of the UK, the values we stand for, and the peace more generally are constantly threatened and eroded. We must therefore always be conscious of the fact that trade is a powerful tool at our disposal, not only for holding back rogue states but for enabling us to play an active role in the geographical landscape of the future. It is right to point out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that we are now at a stage where world free trade is under attack like it has never been before. Therefore, organisations such as the CPTPP help to ensure that free trade continues to be at the forefront.

We have entered the CPTPP from a position of strength. As the report before your Lordships’ House explains, the UK is now the second-largest economy within the CPTPP after Japan, and the sixth-largest economy globally. This provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of the trading alliance. Therefore, as we contemplate the expansion of the CPTPP, it is of vital importance to the UK that we play a significant role in confronting the future challenges of the trading bloc and standing up for the values that we protected and promoted in our accession last year.

As I have said in the House before, the CPTPP represents a significant milestone in the UK’s ambitious plan to promote free trade and economic co-operation in the post-Brexit world and the post-Covid landscape that we find ourselves in. It is also an important ingredient in the Indo-Pacific tilt policy of the UK—that has been talked about quite a bit today, but it is always worth reminding ourselves that this group of countries represents large populations, growing economies and growing middle classes. All the ingredients of growth in the 21st century lie within the countries in the CPTPP.

I believe that the CPTPP is a true deliverer and a meaningful benefit to UK trade. We should generally be supportive of allowing other nations to join the bloc and to do so in a way similar to that in which we recently have done. That said, expanding membership of the CPTPP poses unique and complex hurdles and, against the changing geographical landscape, the situation demands that the Government provide careful consideration that allocates greater risk analysis when considering the UK’s support for any nation wishing to join in the future.

That has become even more difficult and complex. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, drew our attention to the fact that there is no standing secretariat, as there is in the EU, for example. It is very much left to the rotating chairmanship to lead on these issues, and therefore it is important that the UK thinks carefully about the negotiating team that we already have and that has taken us this far. We should think about whether we continue to keep that negotiating team as a live operational part of DBT, or whether it is just to be disbanded so that, next year, when we start thinking about another country, we have to scrabble around trying to find the right officials to do the work. This is a serious issue to which serious thought has to be given.

A primary challenge and concern is the mechanism that the Government will use to ensure alignment among new members with our existing principles and standards, which we fought for in this agreement. The CPTPP embodies a commitment to high standards in areas such as labour rights, environmental protection, intellectual property rights and market access. Protecting and enhancing these rights is fundamental to the UK’s accession, and I would therefore be keen to understand from my noble friend the Minister how the Government plan to ensure that any potential new member state can demonstrate a genuine commitment to upholding these standards.

I note that several of the countries cited as potential new members would surely be required to undertake significant domestic reforms and adjustments to be able to meet our standards. I therefore seek assurances from the Government that we have in place the necessary resources to ensure that the future accession of any state would never leave the United Kingdom in a situation in which our standards could be inadvertently weakened. The UK could utilise and leverage our not insignificant soft power in helping some of the nations mentioned in the report to undergo the transformative domestic reforms needed to aid their accession to the CPTPP. I hope that the Government actively get engaged in this area. Apart from anything else, there are also enormous commercial opportunities for companies in that space.

As we navigate the complex landscape of international trade, especially at a time when the established world trade order is being actively ignored by some actors, it is important that we uphold the core values that define us as a nation and that our trade policy upholds and safeguards our security interests. We must therefore ensure that the accession of other nations is always considered under the magnifying lens of our values and approached with careful consideration of protecting our national security interest. History has demonstrated that trading blocs such as the CPTPP have a vital role to play in providing stability. In a world which is sadly characterised by shifting power dynamics, regional tensions and emerging security threats, we cannot afford to forget that it is through agreements such as this that we will foster stability.

I am also keen to receive assurances from my noble friend that, when considering potential accession applications of other states in future, this Government stand ready and are sufficiently resourced to ensure that no country will be allowed to join the bloc if it runs the risk of undermining our values. As other nations seek to join, we must make sure that the United Kingdom plays an active and early role in weighing up their compatibility with our stake in the agreement. It is important that any country wishing to join the bloc demonstrates how its participation is fully aligned with our values of individual liberty and respect for human rights. By staying true to these principles, we can ensure that the CPTPP remains a force for good and a testament to the values that we hold dear. These values should be non-negotiable.

Following our accession to the CPTPP, it is not good enough simply to rest on our laurels. We have already heard some of the criticism made by witnesses of the ability to get information. We must work and shape this agreement to meet the demands of the changing world. I put it to noble Lords that, in engaging in the expansion and evolution of the CPTPP, we can assert our influence on shaping the rules and norms governing international trade more widely. It is integral to the protection and safeguarding of our national interests that we not only take up this role but do so quickly.

I turn to UK business. As I and others in your Lordships’ House and the committee have mentioned before, it is imperative that UK SMEs remain fully engaged in the process of shaping our future relations because it is through their active involvement that this relationship will be able to return benefit to the UK. I therefore welcome the update in the report which highlights how the

“Department for Business and Trade has started to engage with business through a number of online initiatives to address these issues”.

However, I concur with the committee’s view that online initiatives alone are not enough and that we have to be proactive and have an in-person approach. On that point, I thank the Minister for his work, because people often underestimate just how important visiting Ministers are for British trade. Unless British Ministers go to those countries, banging the drum and creating opportunity, we will not get the benefits that we so deserve from this. I thank him, because I know that he goes out and does that a lot.

Free trade must be protected and the CPTPP helps us with that. I am sure that, by navigating the challenges ahead, making sure that future partners align with our values and getting out there and showing that we can be a major player in this, we can have an even stronger relationship.