My constituents understandably have many concerns about how Brexit will affect our relationships with other countries. One recent campaign has highlighted the potential impact on trade with developing countries. I agree that this is an important issue. As the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make clear, international trade has an important role to play in sustainable development.
The UK purchases a large amount of produce from developing countries and this trade is largely governed by EU deals. For example, 49 least developed countries currently enjoy duty-free, quota-free trade terms with the UK under the EU’s “Everything But Arms” programme. In addition, many UK imports from developing countries are imported into other EU countries first. As the Fairtrade Foundation, Traidcraft and others have noted, the decision of the UK to exit the EU therefore has a number of potential implications for fair trade with developing countries.
The Government states that it is it is committed to ensuring that UK trade policy takes into account the ability of developing countries to reduce poverty through trade. However, I note that the House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) has expressed concern that the Government lacks a strategic and comprehensive approach to implementation of the SDGs. The IDC warns this could undermine progress to achieving the SDGs, which, as noted above, contain important targets on international trade. So while, for example, the Department for International Development states that it is working across Government to look at unilateral trade preferences for developing countries as we leave the EU, I am concerned that the Department for International Trade’s free trade agenda is focused on big business and deregulation.
Free trade is a powerful tool which has helped pull millions of people in developing countries out of poverty. However, I believe we need to make trade more inclusive to ensure that its benefits are shared equitably, not just among the rich, but also among developing countries. I therefore support trade deals that are based on just relationships and shared values, and which develop markets and raise income and standards in developing countries. Such deals must also preserve and enhance social, environmental and other standards, as well as human rights. They must also be fully transparent and subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.