I am very concerned that if the UK leaves the European Union it will damage developing countries.
At the June 2017 General Election, the Labour Manifesto that committed to guaranteeing that the least developed countries had continued access to the UK market in the wake of Brexit. The Conservative Government has agreed to ensure that these countries continue to have market access at the same level that they currently enjoy with the EU. However it would be better to stay in the European Union, and the customs union and single market.
I believe the Government must go further and make clear how it will ensure sustainable development is a guiding principle of our trade policy. It also needs to set out how it will extend preferential access to the UK market for developing countries currently covered by the EU's wider Generalised System of Preferences. This could include, as Traidcraft and others have suggested, establishing a non-reciprocal, tariff-free market access scheme for economically vulnerable countries. While the Government's Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill does provide a framework for addressing this issue, I know that the Fairtrade Foundation has expressed concern at the Bill's lack of clarity on the Government's approach.
I also agree that we must have proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals if we leave the EU. I am therefore concerned that the Government's approach, as set out in the Trade Bill and in a White Paper published in October, gives little acknowledgement of the need for due process in Parliament and no clarity on how trade deals will be scrutinised. Instead it proposes to "transition" existing EU trade deals and to introduce future deals through a procedure that I believe is undemocratic.
I do not believe that negotiating, signing and ratifying international treaties should be the exclusive preserve of the Government, operating without checks and balances or democratic oversight. In addition to a debate and vote on future agreements, we need a new House of Commons committee with the power to scrutinise treaties before the Government agrees to them. MPs should have the power to debate, amend and approve mandates before negotiations start; and MPs should have access to negotiating texts as they are formulated. Importantly, negotiations should also be informed by an impact assessment of the social, economic, environmental risks of any potential deal.
I can assure you that I will continue to support a trade policy that champions development as Parliament considers the Trade and Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bills.