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Don't rush into the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, balance our diplomatic interests with our economic ones, Liberal Democrats warn Government

June 24, 2021 3:39 PM

sarah_olneyDuring the House of Commons debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership , which will increase GDP by only 0.017%,the Liberal Democrats' Spokesperson for Trade Sarah Olney MP urged the Government to consider whether the risks of entering this partnership was in the interests of the public.

Speaking after the debate, Sarah said:

"The Government have hailed this new agreement as a remedy to post-Brexit trade but in reality it's set to be a drop in the ocean.

"Our most important trading relationship with the EU is suffering, and British small businesses trading with Europe are struggling under complicated new rules and red tape.

"It is time the Government starts paying attention to the problems of our small businesses and stops deluding itself about the Pacific trade pact."

Sarah Olney MP told Parliament:

The UK's application to join the comprehensive and progressive trans-pacific partnership (CPTPP) is founded mostly on its diplomatic advantages rather than its international trade ones.

"Strengthening our ties with established and developing free-market economies and liberal democracies is a positive goal in itself and it is right that we think about how we can leverage our international trade power to build these partnerships.

"But we need to balance our diplomatic interests with our economic ones. Joining an existing economic partnership whose rules have already been developed and cannot be changed for our benefit is fraught with risk. Before ascension, there should be a full consultation, debate and vote in Parliament so that every part of this country and every economic sector can review the risks and benefits and contribute to the decision.

"Greater scrutiny leads to greater decision-making. A better and more-informed awareness of the risks will surely help us to better leverage any advantages. The principle risk and, as I understand it, the reason why the Biden administration is reluctant to sign up to the CPTPP is that the rules governing membership inhibit national Governments from pursuing their public policy objectives.

"This inhibition is primarily through the use of investor-state dispute settlements which the CPTPP allows. ISDS allows private companies to sue national Governments if public policy limits their ability to make profits. ISDS has been used to challenge important environmental regulations, including water pollution controls in Germany, a ban on fracking in Canada, and various regulations on mining in East Africa and South America.

"There's also evidence of ISDS being used to challenge health provision, labour rights and other regulations. ISDS was used in Egypt to challenge an increase in the minimum wage, Philip Morris sued Australia for attempting to introduce plain-package cigarettes, and Slovakia was sued for attempting to nationalise part of the health service.

"The risk to the UK is clear. The need to take urgent action to tackle climate change has been spelled out for us once more this morning by the committee on climate change and their new report. This country is not on track to meet our net zero commitments without urgent further action. There is public pressure and political consensus on the need for that action and we should not put ourselves in a position where action can be undermined by carbon-emitting companies looking to make profits. There is too much at stake.

"The CPTPP places obligations on members to recognise each other's standards as equivalent. This is a huge concern for those who value the UK's high standards of agriculture and food safety, enabling the import of agriculture and food products into this country that do not meet our existing thresholds of welfare and quality that will weaken our domestic producers.

"If we were firmly focused on our diplomatic and trade interests, we would not have left the Single Market or the Customs Union. As we try to mitigate the various impacts of those Government decisions, we need to be honest about the trade-offs required from different courses of action. Are the risks of entering into this partnership worth the 0.017% uplift in GDP? The public deserves proper scrutiny of these plans so that we can make the best decision in our national interests."