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

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Department: Department for Business and Trade

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

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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First, let me say that we on the SNP Benches are also not looking to divide the House. I thought that I might get the opportunity to pre-empt the jibe that is often made about how my party is against trade deals, but the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) got there first. I saw that those on the Labour Front Bench also took a sideswipe with their rather nonsensical jibe. I freely admit that we have yet to find a deal signed by this Government that we are happy to support. Fundamentally—I say this again—we are in favour of good trade deals and we are not in favour of poor trade deals. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Totnes is very, very excitable. For the purposes of Hansard, he is asking me to name one, but the sad fact is that I cannot name one that has been signed by this Government. Trying to help those on the Treasury Bench and Back Benchers understand the difference feels a bit like Father Ted trying to explain to Father Dougal the difference between cows that are small and cows that are far away.

In common with the shadow Minister, we are not saying that there cannot be some advantages of the CPTPP deal, but what we could not be clearer about is that, taken in their totality, all the trade deals signed to date—or even those that could have been signed had negotiations not failed to get off the starting block, or those that have hit the buffers in recent days—are a very poor substitute for the trade deals that we have left behind. In the manner in which it chose to leave the European Union, the UK managed not only to create trade borders with 27 other countries, but, unfathomably, to create one with itself, when it created a trade border down the middle of the Irish sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

In the CPTPP, we have essentially swapped the four freedoms in Europe of goods, capital, services and people, in a market of half a billion people with a GDP of over £15 trillion, which was right on our doorstep and which already took over 40% of our exports, with a much lesser deal, with a combined economy of almost half the size, on the opposite side of the world, which currently takes only 8% of our exports. A great deal of growth would need to happen in that market—somewhat implausibly I have to say—even to come close to matching what has been left behind.

The economic benefits of joining the CPTPP are pretty small. I know the Government do not like these figures being repeated—which seems as good a reason as any to go on and repeat them—but the UK Government’s own impact assessment indicated the long-run increase in GDP would be £2 billion, or 0.06% of GDP. The OBR even had it as 0.04% in the long run. As John Maynard Keynes said:

“In the long run we are all dead.”

In a written answer to me dated 11 September last year, the then Minister of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), said that the impact assessment, where the £2 billion figure had come from, had

“been independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee”.

I went and had a look at what the Regulatory Policy Committee had to say in order to get an idea of what “the long run” might actually mean. The Committee’s document said:

“When compared to projected levels of GDP or trade in 2040 without the agreement, the FTA’s main impacts (based on central estimates and in 2021 prices) are that…UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to increase by £2.0 billion.”

What the Minister said in his reply will therefore be correct, just not for a further 16 years or so. In the meantime, we have a real, immediate drop of 4% in GDP resulting from Brexit, leaving our economy permanently driving with the handbrake on.

I understand that the Government intend to adhere to the Sewel convention on this occasion and will seek the legislative consent of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies for the Bill. The Government should do that for every piece of legislation that comes through this place, not just performatively whenever they are confident of getting a positive response. While the benefits of free trade are obvious, there is also an obvious benefit to having tariffs in place. Tariffs serve a purpose; they are not just about protectionism, as some would have it.

I was encouraged to hear the Secretary of State say that we would never compromise on animal welfare standards, but one sector where that is in real danger of happening is the egg production sector. I see the Minister for Trade Policy wrinkling his brow. He and I have had an exchange on this before. The sector is worth over £1 billion to the UK economy. Tariffs exist currently to protect the industry from imports from mass-producing jurisdictions such as India and Mexico, which have lower standards than we insist on for our domestic producers, and that our consumers rightly demand.

The Minister responded, again not inaccurately, that the UK does not import many eggs. Well, eggs are quite fragile. It is difficult enough sometimes to transport them from the shops back to our kitchens intact, let alone right around the world—but of course the egg products that we are talking about are liquefied or even powdered egg products, which once put into a shipping container can be transported around the world at comparatively very low cost. It would not require a huge amount of displacement in the market to get a foothold if those products were allowed in under the terms of the CPTPP. Let us be under no illusions: for all that it is a £1 billion domestic industry, once egg producers are gone, they are gone and they are not coming back, so there is a real risk of harm and of our standards being undermined whatever level we choose to set them at domestically, because the tariff that was there to maintain a block on imports that did not meet those standards will effectively have been taken away.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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I am not sure that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) quite understands what is about to happen with the border target operating model that fits alongside the legislation. A health check certificate and a consignment charge will be required for eggs and egg products imported from Europe, with no equivalent health check or standard required for eggs imported from CPTPP countries, thus creating an imbalance and making the scenario that the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) is talking about more likely, because of the way in which eggs are produced in this country in collaboration with Europe.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. One of the ironies here is that because our borders will no longer be protected by food import checks at Rotterdam, there has basically been a free-for-all in terms of the standard of products that can come in. I welcome the fact that there will be checks in order to protect our biosphere, but that comes at a financial cost that will hit consumers hard at a time when food inflation remains high and we are in the middle of a cost of living crisis. That is just one example of the red tape that we were told would be cut by Brexit not being cut sideways; it has been cut lengthways, creating far more of the stuff.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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Moving away from eggs, which I do not think will be the major export from Malaysia or other far-eastern members of the trans-Pacific partnership, let us look at the opportunities for Scotland. In the last year or so there have been bumper sales of Scottish whisky. Whisky sales in Singapore are up by some £90 million, and in Malaysia they are up over £30 million. The opportunities arising from being able to export tariff-free to Malaysia will mean a substantial increase in our single most important food and beverage export. Does the hon. Member agree that we should not underestimate the opportunities for Scotland in all this?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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My point about eggs—I will stay on this subject for a bit—related to India and Mexico, which are major producers. Of course Scottish MPs are interested in good trade outcomes for Scotland, but we look to trade more than just whisky. While any increase in our share of the international spirits market is welcome, it would have done us much more good if the Government with control over domestic duties had not whacked an 11.1% increase in duty on that product last year. I say as gently as I can to the hon. Member that it is not just tariffs that are significant; many jurisdictions take their cue for the taxes levied on a product from the duty set in this country. I contend that we set a very bad example—I hope that he might agree—when whisky is taxed so highly in comparison with other alcohol products in the UK domestic market. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I did not quite catch that. I invite the hon. Member to intervene on me, if he wishes to make a point.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham
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I was just making the point that taxation raised here is spent on important issues in the United Kingdom. That of course includes, under the Barnett formula, significant subsidies by the English of Scotland.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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What a load of absolute codswallop. It may have escaped the hon. Member’s notice that every part of the UK is in deficit. I do not think that a single part of the UK, perhaps not even London or the south-east, raises more in taxation than it receives in public expenditure, so can he please park the patronising trope about England subsidising everywhere else? Scotland creates one of the highest levels of gross value added of any part of the UK outside the vortex of London and the south-east, which suck in every aspect of capital and talent.

Mark Garnier Portrait Mark Garnier
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In the spirit of trying to bring the debate back to the fantastic opportunities for Scotland, as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Brunei, I was delighted to go to Aberdeen to meet a number of Scottish companies in the incredibly important business of decommissioning and renewal in the oil and gas industry. Brunei has signed a deal worth, I think, £350 million with Scottish business. That is not subject to any controversy.

May I also say that the hon. Member’s contribution to this place is incredibly useful? It is a very good symbol of why members of the SNP and Scottish Members of Parliament are so valuable to the Union, and to debates such as this in the British Parliament. Long may you be welcome here in Britain.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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We seemed to be being pulled back to the topic, but now I am being tempted to go off down another rabbit hole. While I thank the hon. Member for his generous comments, I know exactly what side my bread is buttered on. I am a long-standing supporter of Scottish independence because I have a simple belief that the best people to run Scotland and make decisions about Scotland are those who have chosen to make their life there. With all due respect to this place and its traditions, I think that we could do a far better job from the Parliament in Edinburgh.

I will get back to the purpose of the debate, as entertaining as that no doubt was for all concerned. The SNP retains concerns about the ability to apply investor-state dispute settlements under the CPTPP. A deal for Canada has, for now at least, hit the buffers, but it was concerning that there was no indication from the Government of any side letters about investor-state dispute settlements similar to those applied in respect of the FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. There is real concern that investor-state dispute settlements could have an impact on standards and decisions taken here.

We firmly believe that trade deals done right can channel and create potential to support decent jobs and raise standards, not just domestically but globally. It is therefore worrying that the ethos of the CPTPP means effectively abandoning the precautionary principle, which places the burden of proof on the producer to show that a product is safe. Instead, the burden will be on the regulator to prove that something is a danger before action can be taken. That can only act as a downward pressure on standards. The committee on regulatory coherence will no doubt also become a focus for this issue, whether we are talking about antibiotics in agriculture, the impact of decisions on deforestation, or something as iconic as palm oil; we have already agreed a 12% tariff on imports from Malaysia, irrespective of the impact that that would have.

We have further concerns about the impact on workers’ rights and domestic conditions. There is the risk of being undermined by lower costs elsewhere, resulting from lower standards on labour rights and obligations, or lower regulatory standards more broadly. We are concerned about the impact that that could have on our public services, and our ability to set domestic laws and regulations could come under challenge, either from the economic forces that are unleashed or through the ISDS mechanism.

All things considered, the Government have made a blustery and boosterish contribution, while being very blasé about and dismissive of the concerns raised. As I said earlier, the SNP will not seek to divide the House on the Bill this evening, but we certainly look forward to exploring all those issues further in Committee.

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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Business and Trade

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

Richard Thomson Excerpts
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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Like everybody else, let me start with a moment of consensus. It was a privilege to be present for the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Damien Egan). On my visit to his constituency, I did not get to see the beacon that he mentioned, but that is clearly an oversight on my part and I hope to rectify it at some point. May I be the first to congratulate his sister on her wedding? Brothers who usurp their sisters are brave men, and only being elected to this place is a justifiable reason for doing so.

I am going to contradict my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) in that I think we have to talk about Brexit in this debate, not least because the Government have talked about Brexit in promoting the benefits of the CPTPP, and the people of the UK deserve better. They need to understand what is being offered to them and what is being done to reflect their growing recognition of the severe damage that this Tory hard Brexit has done to the British economy and to British businesses.

I rise to support not only the amendments tabled by my Front-Bench colleagues, but the concerns that have been raised about democratic oversight and scrutiny of those who might join the CPTPP. I will also speak to new clause 9, which I have tabled. I am pleased to say that it has support from across the House, including among people who disagree on whether Brexit has been a good idea. When so much fantasy has dominated the debate, it is about time we had some facts.

New clause 9 refers to the very real experience of British business right now of the damage that Brexit has done. Research suggests that £140 billion has already been drained from the economy; those trading opportunities and business opportunities have gone. The average Briton is £2,000 worse off, and in my London constituency people are £3,500 worse off. British businesses are crying out for support and help with trade. Research from the University of Sussex last year showed that only 6% were positive about Brexit, and seven in 10 manufacturers reported problems with their supply chain. That is why it matters that we look at the CPTPP.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am here not to oppose joining the CPTPP, but to hold the Government to account. It is Government Ministers, as well as their chums and various right-wing think-tanks, who promoted the idea that we should not worry about the damage that Brexit under their watch has done to our economy, because programmes such as the CPTPP were going to replace all those trading opportunities and be the hallowed ground that British business could look to.

The Trade Secretary herself said:

“Our accession to CPTPP sends a powerful signal that the UK is open for business and using our post-Brexit freedoms to reach out to new markets around the world”.

She is one of the milder advocates for the idea that not only has Brexit been a roaring success, but that the CPTPP will add to those trading opportunities.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that CPTPP+UK is an equivalent economic power to the EU-28”,

said Shanker Singham of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Goodness me, what a claim to be making. I tabled new clause 9 because I think British business and this place deserve to know the truth about the relative merits of such partnerships and the challenges to our businesses and communities, particularly small and medium-sized businesses struggling with the impact of Brexit, as well as whether help is indeed coming.

The honest truth is that nobody wants to name consistently the impact of this partnership deal, not even the Secretary of State herself. Mark Littlewood, who is also from the Institute of Economic Affairs, has claimed:

“The benefits to Britain will likely be significantly greater than some official estimates driven by static economic models.”

The challenge to that argument is that, when we ask anybody who promotes it what the actual data might be—where the evidence is that this will be the help needed by British businesses that are being clobbered by Brexit, with all the rules, regulations and tariffs they are now facing—we get the Facebook setting response of “It’s complicated”. That is not good enough for British business.

Even the Secretary of State tried that model with the Business and Trade Committee, telling it that she disputed the idea that the results or the benefits to British businesses of joining the CPTPP would be small, but she could not give an alternative model or an alternative number to give people some crumb of hope that they might actually solve the problems in their supply chain.

All we are left with are the claims of greatness—claims that disintegrate on hard contact with the here and now about what is actually being proposed and what actual damage has been done by Brexit. Here and now, British businesses find that Brexit border taxes are increasing, although I note that today in a written ministerial statement the Government have decided to rewrite some of those Brexit border taxes, which are due to come in at the end of April. So that is great for British businesses! That is stability and planning, when even the Government do not know how much they are going to charge people. The CPTPP is supposed to reduce the tariffs and non-tariff barriers we now face as a direct result of having left the European Union, because after all it is about reducing tariff barriers.

Let us look at the data we have to hand and whether we can really judge this partnership as offering that salvation. It has been claimed again, this time by The Daily Telegraph, that the bloc will represent 16% of global GDP, “leap-frogging the combined EU.” It is currently 10% of global GDP—but you know the Telegraph and figures—compared with 14% for the European Union. It is said that the CPTPP member countries have a combined population of 500 million and a GDP of £9 trillion. That is fantastic; we can be part of trading with them—nobody would dispute that that would be helpful to British businesses. There is a small reference point to take into account, however. Although the EU is of a similar size with a GDP of £11 trillion, the total value of our trade with the EU is £557 billion. That is 45% of our total trade, but that trade is falling as a direct result of Brexit, because it used to account for 55% of UK exports.

That is because, for all the smoke and mirrors and all the bluster about the CPTPP, there is a simple fact: geography matters. We can fight many things in life but air miles and transportation costs are not among them. Our ability to trade with our nearest neighbours easily and freely matters to British business far more than anything we could do with those further away. That is why the Government’s own impact assessment tells us that the CPTPP might only make 0.06% of difference to our GDP, or £2 billion. That is in part because we already have trade deals with most of the countries from when we had them as part of the EU. So only a further 0.33%—not 33%—of total UK trade will come under the new trade agreements.

The reality in all this and the conundrum we face is that this trade partnership will only really be a big deal if more countries join. I am sorry the right hon. Member for North Somerset (Sir Liam Fox) is no longer in his place. He was disappointed that the United States of America were not part of the CPTPP. It will only be the game changer that people talk it up to be if more countries join. Then we would be looking at the Indo-Pacific region. Right here, right now, that is not what we are signing up to and that is not what is being offered to British business. That is why scrutiny and looking at who else might join matters, but it is also why new clause 9 matters. It is not fair to British business to suggest that help is coming when help there is none.

Membership of the CPTPP bears no comparison to EU membership. The sum it will generate is just one fiftieth of what the Office for Budget Responsibility estimates Brexit has already cost the UK economy. Indeed, it estimates that leaving the single market means that our GDP will be 4% less over the next 15 years, and some have estimated that GDP has already reduced by 5% as a result.

In 2022, the UK exported £340 billion-worth of goods and services to the EU. By way of comparison, we exported £64 billion-worth of goods and services to the CPTPP countries. New clause 9 is about being honest with British businesses about where those markets lie and where they should invest their time. It is also about understanding that free trade is not just about tariffs; it is also about regulations and the non-tariff changes we face. It is about understanding that this deal could lead to a lowering of food standards and problems with our food supply chain. It could affect our ability to sign a sanitary and phytosanitary deal with Europe that might help remove those silly Brexit border taxes which mean that in a couple of weeks our constituents are going to be asking us why there are food shortages and food inflation and loads of lorries queued up at Dover trying to get to Sevington. It could lead to challenges for our environment, too: my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) rightly raised questions about palm oil and deforestation. There is an absolute irony in those who championed Brexit and who now champion the CPTPP not seeming to understand what the investor-state dispute settlement provisions are and the lack of democratic accountability and lack of control we might have. I do not know who is taking back control under those circumstances, because it is behind closed doors.

Clearly, we could have been working on other deals as a country that would have made a bigger difference to British business. That is why the amendments and new clause are so important. Our constituents demand that we ask those questions and get those answers from Government about the tariffs that are being retained and the impact that they will have, such as for British cheese producers. After all, Canada’s dairy industry is being protected—no Wensleydale for Winnipeg. The Trade and Agriculture Commission has warned of the potential increased costs of products due to tariff reductions, because UK producers will be held legally to higher sustainable standards. It is also about the rules of origin and details around what content is allowed.

Nobody is disputing that it is helpful to have content accumulation, because it helps with those difficulties within supply chains. Ministers have made much about that, but the reality is that had they spent as much time on the pan-Euro-Mediterranean convention, we would have far greater benefits for British business. That convention binds together more than 60 bilateral trade agreements within the Euro-Mediterranean area. It is not just the EU; it is much broader than that. There are 23 contracting parties, each with free trade agreements between them and a single rules-based origin protocol.

British businesses and those struggling supply chains could have got much more help, had we looked at what would really benefit them and just admitted the geography at stake in all this. We have short-changed ourselves and we are short-changing the British public if we try to claim that the CPTPP is in any way compensation for the damage that Brexit is doing.

In challenging those on the right who claim that the benefits of CPTPP will far outweigh the problems of Brexit—their hope and intention is that UK accession will kill off any likelihood that we will ever be part of the EU customs union or single market, as in that article in The Daily Telegraph—and that we could not have dynamic alignment, we have to recognise that that is just not true. There is plenty of evidence that whatever we did, we could rethink, and thank goodness for that. When things are at stake for British business, it is only right that we ask those questions. There is a process for changing regulations as we join the CPTPP that can be reversed if we can do a deal with Europe and work out what is in the best interests of British business. The only way we can do that is if we have the facts, and that is what new clause 9 is about.

Whether Members agreed with Brexit or opposed it, they should support new clause 9 and that ethos of having the data. If I am wrong and the CPTPP is the light at the end of the tunnel for British business, let us prove it, stand behind it and celebrate it. Nobody wants to see British business struggling as a result of Brexit with no help in sight. Every Member in this House should get behind the idea that we need good economic modelling. We should understand the extent of alignment, what new trade regulations on carbon pricing might do for British business and what is happening to trade volumes as a result of these partnerships. Without the new clause, we will not get that data. We will still get the Facebook answer of, “It’s complicated. We cannot really tell you.” All the while, global Britain is going-broke Britain—it is gutted Britain, with businesses across the country facing reams and reams of paperwork because of Brexit, with no end in sight, because this Government will not put British business first and renegotiate with Europe for a closer deal.

I am sorry that new clause 9 has not been selected for decision. I understand why, but I hope that Members will join me in demanding better for British business when it comes not just to trade deals, but to our relationship with Europe, because every manager of a small business in this country right now will be looking at all the paperwork, all the complications, all the further regulations and excessive costs and frankly the fact that the Government cannot even tell them what they will charge them on the Brexit border tax, and they will be coming to our constituency surgeries asking for help. We owe them the respect of having an answer.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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May I say what a pleasure it is to follow the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy)? She makes an excellent case for rejoining the European Union. I could have scarcely put it better myself, and I hope her leader is listening. She makes some important points, any teasing aside, about the importance of economic data and of being able to model the impacts of the Government’s decisions.

I rise to speak to new clause 10, which is in my name, but first I would echo a number of voices from various parts of the Chamber that have expressed regret that we have before us a narrow Bill to ensure compliance with the requirements of the CPTPP, rather than a debate on the substance and fundamental principle. That is something on which, collectively, we could do much better.

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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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May I take this opportunity to thank the Clerks for all the assistance that they have given throughout the scrutiny process, and to offer heartfelt thanks to the researchers who support my group for the help that they have given me throughout the passage of this Bill?

Those on the Treasury Bench will no doubt be delighted to hear that the SNP will not seek to divide the House on this Bill. We have never said that there could not be advantage from the CPTPP, but we could not be clearer that it offers a poor substitute for the trade deals that were left behind as a result of our leaving the European Union. Let us remind ourselves that, with the CPTPP, we have essentially swapped the four freedoms of the European single market—a market of half a billion consumers, right on our doorstep—for an agreement with a combined economy of almost half the size on the opposite side of the world, which takes only 8% of our exports. It seems to be a bit like putting an Elastoplast on an amputation.

The Government’s impact assessment, which I know is highly contested, even by the Government themselves, indicated that the long-term increase in trade will be worth £2 billion a year, or 0.06% of GDP. We are all aware of the parable of the hare and the tortoise, but I am not sure that many tortoises could live long enough to make up that ground. Whatever benefits do arise—at this point in time, they look distant and minimal at best—they will always and forever be less than we could have had in different circumstances.

Along with others, throughout the passage of the Bill, I have sought to warn the Government that they should find a way to quantify the impacts of CPTPP, and the risks right across a range of sectors that will be affected by it. We will remain vigilant, and will hold the Government to account, where the outcomes justify it. I suppose that I should not disturb the bonhomie that there has been, but one big question remains: will all those on the Front Bench be reunited to discuss any further trade deals before the Prime Minister has to call an election? I await the answer with bated breath.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.