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7 November 2022
Public Sector

MPs Demand Transparency: Government Trade Policy and Its Environmental Impact

The International Trade Committee has called on the UK Government to reveal how its trade policy interacts with the UK’s environmental goals.

In a letter to the Secretary of State for International Trade, the cross-party Committee of MPs raised concerns about carbon leakage, whereby British producers move carbon-intensive elements of their supply chains abroad.

Current estimations suggest nearly 50 per cent of the UK’s carbon is emitted overseas. While there are concerns over the enforcement of a carbon border adjustment mechanism, the Committee believes it would be a useful transitional tool, pending a more thorough international agreement on carbon measurement and pricing.

Summarising evidence received as part of its Trade and the Environment inquiry, the Committee raises concerns on the use of pesticides in countries with which the UK is in trade negotiations. Australian farmers, for example, 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, the MPs ask the Government to guarantee it will never sign a trade deal which weakens the UK’s pesticide controls.

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

Despite climate change being a key priority for consumers, there are inconsistencies in how the environmental impact of a product is displayed. The MPs ask if the Government will consider a traffic light system of labelling, similar to the nutritional information seen on food packaging.

The Committee is unconvinced by the 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 – and asks the Government to consider joining.

The MPs also ask what steps the Government is 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 need to be backed up with clear action.”

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