Amendment 6

Part of Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords am 6:45 pm ar 16 Ionawr 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) 6:45, 16 Ionawr 2024

I thank my noble friend for his comments.

I turn to Amendment 12 on pesticides, which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—and I had conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, as well earlier this week. It is very important for noble Lords on all sides of the House to know about the work that I have personally been putting in to ensure that we have the right and appropriate border checks and security, and that the agreements allow us to ensure that we have control over our borders. I refer to my opening comments a few hours back that this free trade agreement—on implementation day plus one, or accession day, or on becoming a party to the CPTPP—makes no difference at all with regard to our import controls and our ability to control our own destiny. This is very relevant. It is essential, again, to return to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report, which says that the

“CPTPP has no effect on the UK’s existing WTO rights to regulate the import of products produced using pesticides that are harmful to UK animals, plants, or the environment”.

It is crucial to remember that. We would never derogate our responsibilities to our consumers. I am very grateful for the points raised by noble Lords today to ensure that they can feel a high degree of comfort that this is simply not the case, and that we have not done so by signing up to this agreement.

I want to touch on some of the comments made about the practicalities of administering our border controls. I took the liberty ahead of this debate of visiting our Thames Gateway port system and was shown the operations there in relation to risk-based assessments. I think that is the right way to manage our borders. It would be impossible to check every single thing coming through. It is very important to reinforce the point that the CPTPP does not grant equivalence on exporting parties. We are able—indeed, it is considered that we have increased our ability—to audit exporting parties’ mechanisms for their own domestic testing to ensure that there is robustness around the testing processes before food is exported to the United Kingdom. We believe that, fundamentally, compliance is high. Our ongoing monitoring programme provides assurance that food on the UK market complies with our rules and is safe to eat.

The programme is led by the Health and Safety Executive, with advice from Defra and the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food. Our maximum residue levels are always set below, usually well below, the level considered to be safe for food consumption. For produce that has been declared as high-risk, special health controls are in place and checks must be carried out at import. It is important to note, and I know that people are concerned about the standards that we have rightly imposed upon ourselves in terms of turnaround times for customs, that that does not apply where there is a specific risk associated with certain types of imports—they can be suspended. At the same time there is a great degree of intelligence used to ensure, particularly with commodities, that there are risk-based approaches which allow us to assess whether there are specific areas of concern. There are lists drawn up to decide what is high-risk or lower-risk and how that can be managed.

The final point—again, this is important; I am responding with great sympathy with respect to my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s comments—is that the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland recently published data on compliance checks at the border for non-EU food and feed as part of the joint annual review on food standards. In 2022, they concluded that data on compliance checks carried out at the border showed no significant changes in compliance failure rates in recent years. The FSA will continue to closely monitor the risks. I am very aware that either this month or soon there will be additional processes relating to EU imports and so on. But we are assured that the processes are robust and I hope that people in this country and Peers in this House feel a sense of comfort at that.

Amendment 6 proposes a human rights impact assessment for indigenous and forest peoples. I really would like to stress that the UK Government are fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights for all individuals, including indigenous people, without discrimination on any grounds. We support efforts in a range of activities—from joining important initiatives in multilateral fora to targeted support within bilateral programmes.

We have extensive monitoring and evaluation plans in place for this agreement and have already produced an impact assessment. We publish analysis that is proportionate to the scope of negotiations and our view is that further analysis in this instance is not proportionate. I also believe—and I am sure noble Lords will agree with me—that we are a leading advocate for human rights around the world. We remain committed to the promotion of universal human rights and publish an annual Human Rights and Democracy Report on our activities.

Of course, it is absolutely crucial that as a country we monitor these points. It is not necessarily effective to link this to the free trade agreements in terms of monitoring relating to CPTPP. I would just put that forward. But we continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations and hold those which violate human rights to account. I hope that statement gives a degree of comfort around that point.

On Amendment 10, we have covered some of this already in terms of the environmental protections as opposed to the import of pesticides. My noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned the new labelling scheme. I have not had an opportunity to review that—I will, of course. It is to be noted that once a product has been imported into the country, it is difficult for there to be discriminatory labelling in terms of imported and domestically produced products—as I understand it. I would like to look at this in more detail, but predominantly the point about signing up to CPTPP is not to discriminate against imports from CPTPP countries, it is to celebrate the import opportunities that we have with our partner countries and, more importantly, to sell to the CPTPP member countries so that we can make the most of the extraordinary agricultural sector that we have in this country.

The procurement chapter of CPTPP includes a provision also found in the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement and other FTAs that exempts measures necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, which is understood to include environmental measures. Again, to re-emphasise, we import only from countries that we already know are managing their biosecurity appropriately. The exporting countries are audited and their production establishments are inspected by their competent authorities and need to meet specific requirements to export to the UK. So signing up the CPTPP does not open the floodgates, as it were, to a whole range of exports that have not been checked.

There are two more amendments I would like to cover. The first is the amendment relating to ISDSs; the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, spoke very eloquently on this point, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, also raised very eloquently the issues around ISDSs. I have said this before and I say it again—and I mean this with no disrespect at all to noble Lords in this House—I have spent 30 years investing in many of these markets in CPTPP. The knowledge that we have of investor protections and investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms is, frankly, extremely important for the functioning of UK businesses when it comes to investing internationally. I have never understood why there was so much concern about or resistance to ISDSs. I have been told that the UK acting on its own has never lost an ISDS case. We have nothing to fear in this area.

I do not have the text of the CPTPP on ISDSs to hand, but I remember that it specifically allows you to make legislation relating to the environment and to labour and so on. We are concerned that somehow we will be boxed in from controlling our destiny. We have absolute full control. What we are unable to do is to discriminate between how we treat international investors relative to domestic investors—and that is incredibly important for our businesses when investing overseas. Frankly, it is not so relevant to investing in the UK, because we have a very strong sense of the rule of law and property rights.

I am proud that we have never had a successful case against us. I do not think we have anything to fear. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked whether there would be a review and whether we were looking at more effective mechanisms. ISDS as a principle is 50 years old, probably—even older than I am. Maybe the mechanisms need to be reviewed in terms of how effectively they are performing in protecting our businesses —frankly, that is one of the core functions—and whether or not there is additional risk. I am very comfortable encouraging that review as Investment Minister, but I do not see why there is such alarm placed around these measures in this Bill. Clearly, I would resist that amendment.

I turn to the last two points on labour standards. I am greatly appreciative of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for raising this point. I can assure noble Lords that the government procurement chapter of CPTPP—which is most relevant and to which this is linked, and of course we are talking about the whole treaty here—will not affect our ability to comply with any of our own commitments. In just the same way that we control our borders and our standards, the UK can continue to set its own standards and meet its obligations under the ILO. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol—I have a copy of the letter here, and I hope it has been lodged in the Library—giving strong reassurance about the sort of dialogue that we are having with our CPTPP partners, where it is most relevant. I have stressed again that the whole point about joining multilateral treaties such as this is to enable us to engage in these sorts of debates, which enables us to drive forward our important values-related agenda, and also ensure that our workforces are not disadvantaged through inappropriate actions on behalf of other Governments. This is absolutely the core of our belief in the process of free trade, our support for the ILO and the evolution of the most recent declarations. We have a forum that allows us to discuss how these can be implemented and specific committees that will enable us to drive that agenda forward.

Lastly, on public services, it is absolutely right to ensure that we are not selling the NHS or trying to find some backdoor mechanism for derogation of our public services. This has been debated many times. There is no specific mention in the CPTPP of the NHS because, much to everyone’s surprise, not every country in the CPTPP has an NHS, so clearly when they originally drafted their provisions they did not necessarily consider including it. There is absolutely no mention of the NHS in a positive or negative sense. We have made it very clear that, apart from when it comes to the procurement for basic supplies and certain supplies—which is absolutely right, we are buying from a global market—that we protect our public services and we make that very strong commitment.

I hope that I have covered a great quantity of points. I remain available after this debate to discuss anything specific, but I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, to withdraw her amendment so that we can move forward to the next stage of the debate.