Government

MPs ask Government to show how trade policy interacts with environmental goals

In a letter addressed to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Kemi Badenoch, the International Trade Committee has called on the Government to reveal how its trade policy interacts with the UK’s environmental goals.

farm landThe cross-party Committee raises various concerns regarding carbon leakage by means of British producers moving carbon-intensive elements of their supply chains abroad and states it would ‘appreciate a full reply to this letter by 14 December, as your responses will closely inform our understanding and scrutiny of future FTAs, as well as other possible
inquiries’.

Nearly 50 per cent of the UK’s carbon is emitted overseas, current estimates suggest. Although concerns have been raised in regards to enforcing a carbon border adjustment mechanism, the Committee says this could be a useful transitional tool until a more thorough international agreement is made on carbon measurement and pricing.

Summarising evidence received as part of its Trade and the Environment inquiry, which ended on 28 February, the Committee now raises concerns on the use of pesticides in countries with which the UK is in trade negotiations. ‘We launched this inquiry to scrutinise the extent to which the Government’s approach to trade reflects its ‘net zero’ ambitions. We received expert evidence on issues ranging from the role of environmental considerations in free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations to consumer labelling, export finance, and the trade in green goods and technologies’, the letter reads.

It highlights findings from The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) that the use of agricultural chemicals are ‘an issue of particular concern in negotiating trade agreements’. For instance, Australian farmers are able to use over 70 pesticides that are banned in the UK, potentially exposing British consumers to harmful chemicals in their food. In light of this, MPs are asking the Government to ‘guarantee it will never sign a trade deal which weakens the UK’s pesticide controls’.

The Committee is also asking how the Government will address unfair competition arising from new deals, as trade agreements with countries that have weaker pesticide control could undermine UK producers. It calls on the Department for International Trade to work internationally to restrict the use of pesticides in food produced for the UK market.

As a result of inconsistencies in how the environmental impact of a product is displayed, despite consumers considering climate change a key priority, the letter also asks if the Government will consider a traffic light system of labelling, similar to the nutritional information seen on food packaging.

The Committee expressed that it is unconvinced by the Government’s reasoning for not joining the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability – an international effort to liberalise trade in environmental goods, standardise consumer labelling and restrict fossil fuel investment. Due to this, it  asks the Government to consider joining.

Additionally, the letter enquires what steps the Government will be taking to promote consistent regulations for ‘green’ goods and services internationally.

Commenting on the correspondence, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, Chair of the International Trade Committee, said: “The Government needs to be far more transparent about how it is managing environmental concerns when negotiating new trade agreements. With COP27 on the horizon, we remain unclear as to how the Government’s net zero ambitions interact with its trade policy, and how far the UK is attempting to decarbonise supply chains. The Government’s rhetoric on the environment needs to be backed up with clear action.”