The Trade Bill is an opportunity for MPs to ‘take back control’ and protect the environment

INTEXT-CATTLEThis post is by David Lawrence, senior political adviser at the Trade Justice Movement. 

The UK has not had the power to strike its own trade agreements for nearly 50 years, due to EU membership. However, many people – and indeed many MPs – will be surprised to learn that, even after Brexit, parliament will have virtually no say over our trade agreements.

This is due to a constitutional convention which dates back to the first world war, which was designed to deal with secret defence treaties and limit how much say MPs had over them. After the transition period, the UK will revert to this old, rather archaic system of treaty scrutiny. In practice, this means that MPs will have less say over new deals, such as a US-UK trade deal, than they do over the building of a new high speed rail network, or a new runway at Heathrow.

Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals might sound like a boring technicality, but it is absolutely critical for ensuring that our new trade agreements are good for the economy, for society and for the environment.

The deal with the US is likely to drag down UK standards
Scrutiny matters because trade matters. As has been widely reported, a new US-UK trade deal is likely to lead to the lifting of a ban on chlorine washed chicken, which could soon be on our supermarket shelves. However, chlorine washed chicken is only the tip of the iceberg.

The US lags behind on a whole host of animal welfare, environmental and public health regulations, and employs many practices which are banned in the EU. From sow crates and GM crops to pesticides and hormone-treated beef, a US trade deal could put downward pressure on our existing high standards.

Furthermore, US negotiators have explicitly requested that the US-UK trade deal does not mention climate change. While the UK government has pledged that it wants to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and will host the next UN climate conference, the US has not implemented the Paris climate agreement and plans to withdraw from it in November.

The Trade Bill is a chance to improve scrutiny
Scrutiny is essential if we want to avoid the potentially damaging environmental impacts of new trade deals, such as the prospective one with the US. The Trade Bill, which has its Commons report stage coming up soon, is an opportunity to change this.

Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly, with Environment Committee chair Neil Parish, has tabled an amendment to the bill which would ensure scrutiny and transparency in all future trade agreements.

In practice, Djanogly’s amendment would mean three things for every new trade agreement: (1) before negotiations begin, there would be a guaranteed debate and vote in parliament on the negotiation objectives; (2) a requirement for the government to report on how the deal will affect regulations, including on food standards and the environment, and including a Sustainability Impact Assessment; (3) after negotiations, there would be a guaranteed debate and vote on the final deal.

Giving elected representatives a say over trade deals is not a novel concept: both the EU parliament and the US Congress have guaranteed votes for representatives. Unless the government takes on board Djanogly’s proposals, our MPs will have less say over trade deals with the EU and US than their counterparts in Brussels and Washington.

Scrutiny doesn’t stop trade from happening, but it does mean that the government is held to account. It is an opportunity for constituents, businesses and NGOs to engage more actively with the negotiation process, through working with MPs. It makes the whole process more transparent, so that people know what is being negotiated behind closed doors.

Our new trade policy will have far reaching implications, and could make or break the UK’s environmental ambitions. Voting for parliamentary scrutiny of deals in the upcoming Trade Bill is an essential first step in making sure that our trade system works for people and the planet.

Twitter: @dc_lawrence

5 comments

  • From sow crates and GM crops to pesticides and hormone-treated beef, a US trade deal could put downward pressure on our existing high standards.”

    Thank you for the useful article.

    “In practice, Djanogly’s amendment would mean three things for every new trade agreement: (1) before negotiations begin, there would be a guaranteed debate and vote in parliament on the negotiation objectives; (2) a requirement for the government to report on how the deal will affect regulations, including on food standards and the environment, and including a Sustainability Impact Assessment; (3) after negotiations, there would be a guaranteed debate and vote on the final deal.”

    No. 2. Interesting.

    However, a few frustrated words on GM crops and pesticides……

    With regard to GM crops the situation is complex as I see it.

    Please see:
    https://www.gmfreeze.org/current-actions/ask-ministers-to-reject-plans-to-deregulate-genome-editing/ URGENT!

    and meanwhile:
    https://www.gmfreeze.org/current-actions/ask-ministers-to-reject-plans-to-deregulate-genome-editing/

    Pesticides – NO we do not have existing high standards, they are just higher than the United States. Not the same thing.
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jan/11/georgina-downs-pesticides

    Existing high standards, what does this mean? EU regulations?

    Statutory Instruments
    https://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/19205
    EXCERPT: Prof Millstone, Emeritus Professor in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, [said]: “Our analysis suggests Brexit Statutory Instruments (SIs) will allow ministers to exercise considerable powers of discretion when authorising ingredients in pesticide products, amending GMO authorisations and thresholds for labelling, authorising food additives and approving substances for animal carcass washes. Ministers may issue guidance impacting substantive policy content or make new rules governing food safety by secondary legislation, without proper Parliamentary scrutiny, and using – powers that exceed those vested by the EU in the European Commission.”

    GM crops – NO we do not have existing high standards. Please see GM Freeze’s GM animal feed campaign. The information has always been there but other NGOs have in the main ignored it. Why? Standards are just (currently) higher than the United States. Not the same thing.

    GM crops – NO we do not have existing high standards. What we do have is scientific disagreement and an establishment academia who want to lower standards. The information has always been out there and many NGOs choose not to get involved. Why?

    http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als%5Bcid%5D=569457&als%5Bitemid%5D=571449
    The summary of the meeting, written by the ABC, an industry body, shows plans to:
    Spend more taxpayers’ money on R&D for GM crops and on “education”;
    Promote GM crops in developing countries;
    Remove regulatory and political barriers.

    https://agroecology-appg.org/event/appg-meeting-the-science-of-genetically-engineered-foods/

    https://www.econexus.info/publication/corruption-agricultural-science

    Regards genetic engineering and animal welfare, those who are concerned with need to check out FOE Australia, International, United States and Europe. Please do not go to FOE UK (excluding Scotland) for information unless something changes.

    Click to access FOE_GManimalsReport_Final-Print-1.pdf

    Please note chaos in the GM Freeze link.

    We do not have existing high standards but we have chaos and heads in the sand.

    GM crops – The pressure is from the United States, yes, but also very much from within and hence Brexit.

    As is explained on the Corporate Europe Observatory website, not all EU standards are “high”, they are just higher than the United States….and there are various forces and lobbyists at work within the EU aiming to lower standards and hinder public debate.

    https://www.georgefreeman.co.uk/content/why-we-can%E2%80%99t-let-eu-regulations-hold-back-uk-innovation

    Hence Brexit.

    “Across the board in GM agriculture, exciting emerging fields like ‘nutriceutricals’ and the use of genomic and clinical patient data in modern biomedical research, the EU is heading in the wrong direction. If we cannot use our influence to reverse this dangerous trend, we must seriously consider taking the opportunity of the Review of EU Competencies to withdraw the UK from the EU jurisdiction in these emerging new Life Sciences altogether.”

    No we do not have an opportunity, we have a Conservative pro GM majority and chaos.

    We have Dominic Cummings etc, we have a majority of MPs who want to win an unregulated genetic arms race and who only have a narrow industrial strategy for growth (sustainable growth ??)…and many Lords too…PLUS our Universities are for sale (please see Scientists for Global Responsibility).

    Thank you. Good Luck!

  • Thank you for the useful article.

    However, a few frustrated words on GM crops and pesticides and “our existing high standards”. Standards are (currently) higher than the United States, but there is much room for improvement……. Our existing standards are NOT high, just higher. Not the same thing.

    Georgina Downs, UK Pesticides Campaign, has written about there being too much tinkering at the edges of the agricultural pesticide problem. Evidence already exists of harm to human health, to bees and birds and the wider environment from the use of pesticides in our food production system she argues. There is too much talk of reduction. There is important talk about glyphosate and neonicotinoids. However, there is little talk on the necessary action needed to protect rural residents and the missing bigger picture. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/25/ngos-are-too-weak-to-halt-the-catastrophic-pesticides-crisis/

    https://theecologist.org/2015/apr/30/its-not-just-glyphosate-and-neonicotinoids-why-we-need-pesticide-free-future

    The GM Freeze website explains why the EU GM labelling laws are inadequate including “adventitious presence” which is frequently misunderstood by journalists and ignored by NGOs and environmental campaigning groups (as far as I am aware).

  • GM crops and our future environmental and food choices
    Do we have high standards? Quite the opposite. We have a Conservative pro GM majority and chaos. We have Statutory Instruments with deregulation and an innovation principle on the agenda. We have Dominic Cummings, Shanker Singham and George Freeman etc. We have scientific and farming practice disagreements. We have a majority of MPs (and many Lords too) who want to win an unregulated genetic arms race and who only have a narrow industrial/bioeconomy strategy for growth…..questionable, perhaps dangerous, unsustainable growth (?). We have a new Commission https://www.sustainweb.org/news/jun20_trade_commission_nfu_liz_truss/ and now an apparent Fourth Industrial Revolution “Great Reset” without any meaningful consumer representation https://www.weforum.org/press/2020/06/the-great-reset-a-unique-twin-summit-to-begin-2021/. What’s this? Helena Leurent connections with the World Economic Forum? http://www.babymilkaction.org/archives/23661

    We need action and questions yesterday because parliamentary scrutiny and Helena Leurent as a (questionable) Director General of Consumers International will not be enough.

  • The Djanogly New Clause 4 was defeated 326-263.

  • The Djanogly New Clause 4 was defeated 326-263.
    Chart:
    https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-07-20/division/A6713640-DC9F-4546-959E-7D9D65CD10B3/TradeBill?
    outputType=Party
    Ironically, Freeman and Sturdy (who supported the amendment) being very active and strong supporters of deregulation of GMOs.

    Click to access FoI_summary_May14.pdf

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