Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL]

Lord Udny-Lister Excerpts
Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Cameron on taking on the role of Foreign Secretary. Let us never underestimate overseas Governments: they know who has influence in foreign affairs and who does not. They also know when they meet somebody who has influence in this country and overseas, so it is really great news. I have also had a lot of opportunities to see my noble friend Lord Johnson at work on the investment side. I can tell your Lordships that it is mightily impressive.

I welcome this Second Reading, as the CPTPP provides the UK with a truly unrivalled opportunity to deepen our economic ties with some of the world’s most dynamic and progressive economies. Like others here, I am a true believer in free trade. I have therefore felt a lot of excitement in following the UK’s accession to the CPTPP as it has progressed through your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, went into that in some detail.

There are a couple of points that I want to pull out. I think we need—and I welcome clarity on—rules of origin, specifically in areas where existing FTAs are in place, so that UK businesses can ascertain more easily whether there would be more benefit in them trading under localised bilateral agreements or through the CPTPP itself. Further to this, I have highlighted that the Government need to take bolder action in securing more generous local content thresholds in order to protect UK manufacturers. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some reassurance that mitigating industry’s concerns in these important areas will remain a priority for this Government as the Bill progresses.

By fostering an environment of free and open trade, the CPTPP promotes economic growth and encourages innovation, benefiting UK businesses both large and small. It opens doors for collaboration in areas that are important to the UK economy, such as innovation, technology and research. It is my hope that, through connecting with economies that are at the forefront of technological advancement today, the CPTPP will allow the UK to stimulate innovation and create high-skilled jobs, and allow us to remain a competitive force in the global marketplace.

Picking up on conformity assessments, I am pleased that the Bill will enhance regulatory co-operation between the UK and other countries, for trade agreements of any kind are pointless if they do not seek to reduce costs and bureaucracy for our domestic businesses at every possible opportunity.

We have touched a little on consumer rights. It is important to acknowledge that, as we are acceding to an existing agreement, the Government were limited in seeking the types of amendments that some would have sought; many people have made this point. I, for one, remain entirely satisfied that the Government have proven that they remain committed to ensuring that our high standards and protections, and the rights of the consumer, will be safeguarded in this agreement. However, I urge the Government to seek further joint statements on a bilateral basis, like the joint statement on sustainable agricultural commodity trade with Malaysia, to demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s reputation as a socially responsible and forward-thinking trading partner remains intact.

That is all the good stuff. Now, if I may, I will offer a bit of criticism; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, picked up on this point. We live in an era when technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Business needs quick access to the latest information for trade. It is therefore disappointing that our Government’s website, GOV.UK, falls well short in providing easy, accessible trade-related information. My request to my noble friend Lord Johnson is that he will get his department to ensure that our website equals the gold standard of other countries’ websites. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Frost will not be happy to hear this, but even the EU is better than the UK at this—but the accepted gold standard seems to be Australia. Trade agreements are absolutely pointless if businesses are not able to go through the door and trade. It must be easy to trade and get information; it is essential for SMEs that this is the case. This is a real plea that we make sure that all the information we need is easily accessible and understandable.

As we attempt to navigate the choppy waters of international affairs and the increasing complexities of global trade in an increasingly dangerous world, it is important to acknowledge the strategic importance of our accession to this agreement. Although, by the Government’s own assessment, the economic benefits of the UK’s accession will initially be small, our accession to the CPTPP signals our long-overdue tilt to the Asia-Pacific region and, in my view, the starting point of forging stronger bilateral economic and security ties with other major economies, including Japan, Canada and Australia. For the United Kingdom, the CPTPP ensures that our businesses will have increased access to markets that were previously characterised by high tariff barriers. By reducing these barriers, promoting regulatory co-operation and leading the CPTPP nations in promoting innovation and sustainability, our accession offers a significant opportunity for this country. I therefore very much support what I believe to be an exciting journey that we are on.