Preferential rates: arrangements with countries or territories outside UK

Part of Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 25 Ionawr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:30, 25 Ionawr 2018

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. There is a danger that we are walking into this with a bit of a fuzz around us. We just do not know the impact this will have on us. If the Government do not get it right, as in spot-on, it is potentially very dangerous for our industries. That is why we are concerned, which is another of our themes in relation to the Bill: one is about democratic accountability, and the other is about how the Bill will protect our vital industries, from manufacturing right the way through the whole ream.

The scenario I referred to earlier is far from absurd and reflects the reality that, when it comes to negotiating and signing free trade agreements, there are always winners and losers, particularly when negotiating with countries that are larger both in population and economic size.

The free trade agreement negotiated between Australia and the United States in 2004 was negotiated in a relatively quick period, and it was so bad that officials refused to recommend it to the Australian Parliament. John Howard, the then Prime Minister, was forced into signing it by President George W. Bush, who essentially reminded him of the close security collaboration between the two countries. After signing, John Howard was often and repeatedly chided by political opponents who would shout, “Where’s the beef?”—a reference to the failure of the free trade agreement to stimulate beef exports for Australia.

We do not want to be in that situation. The UK could easily find itself in a similar scenario whereby we will offer preferential rates to the USA or China, with little in return. In November, we had Wilbur Ross, the US Commerce Secretary, saying that the UK retaining EU regulations on chemicals, genetically modified crops and food safety would represent “landmines” for a potential deal. The Secretary of State for International Trade is reported to have given him private assurances that this would not be a problem.

Stakeholders could find themselves shut out of the process. The Opposition’s concerns are not scaremongering, particularly when we have a Secretary of State who has already made it clear that he supports a race to the bottom, with cheaper consumer goods and weaker regulations and standards. Again, our witnesses spoke about how it is not consumer against producer—the two are almost interchangeable. If we look at the trade remedies outlined in the Bill, we see the Government have ensured there is a clear economic interest test for the Treasury to follow that does not consider the interests of UK manufacturers or key industries, which is unique among most World Trade Organisation countries.

If this Bill and the Trade Bill remain unamended, the Treasury will have to take the advice only of the Secretary of State in that regard, but it will receive a recommendation from a Trade Remedies Authority that will be appointed by the Secretary of State and no doubt made up only of people he trusts—that does not mean that anyone else does—unless its composition is amended in the Trade Bill. We saw that only yesterday, with a vote in the House of Commons in relation to the Electoral Commission. Parliament is entitled to express a view on such appointments, but in this case I do not think we will get that capacity. It certainly does not seem to be in the Bill. Key stakeholders will therefore bear the brunt of any changes to tariffs and again effectively be shut out of the process.

Those key stakeholders will be at the mercy of a Secretary of State who appears to be desperately attempting to negotiate free trade agreements at any cost and potentially to pay a price that most of us would not be prepared to pay. If hon. Members do not have the ability to challenge it, the Treasury will also have a free hand to introduce regulations that will set the framework for the lowering of tariffs which, if we are not careful, will change the UK economy as we know it. I exhort the Committee to think carefully on the proposals in the Bill and to take into account what we say in our new clause.