Thank you for contacting me about trade issues following out departure from the EU and a new free trade agreement with the US.
The Trade Bill is an important piece of legislation which has a number of practical functions.
The UK has been working to reach continuity agreements with countries who we currently trade with through EU trade deals. The Trade Bill will enable these continuity agreements to be embedded into UK law so that the agreements can be fully implemented.
In addition, in leaving the EU, the UK will be acceding to the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) in its own right. The Bill’s provisions will make sure the UK can implement procurement obligations under the Agreement, ensuring continued access to £1.3 trillion per year of global procurement opportunities for UK businesses.
As an independent member of the GPA, the UK will be free to decide what procurement is covered under the agreement. Ministers have made clear that the UK’s GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK health services. Indeed, health and social care services are not, and will not, be included in the UK's market access schedule to the GPA, meaning that they will not be opened to GPA competition.
The Bill will also facilitate the creation of a new Trade Remedies Authority (TRA), to deliver a new UK trade remedies framework, which among other things will include protections for UK businesses from unfair trade practices or unforeseen import surges.
It is important to make clear that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and its functions are largely distinct from the Government’s future trade agreements programme. Indeed, the Bill cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. The Bill simply enables the 40 free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries before the UK exited to be transitioned.
Separate work on the future trade agreements programme is of course also pressing ahead, with negotiations already underway with the US and Japan.
Generating more trade will be essential in helping the UK overcome the unprecedented economic challenge posed by COVID-19. An FTA with the US could bring about new opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK and help provide more and better jobs.
I am reassured by my Ministerial colleagues’ commitment not to compromise the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, food safety and food import standards in any future FTA, including one with the US. Ministers do not want to compromise the UK’s domestic welfare production standards either.
The UK remains committed to the delivery of Sustainable Development Goals too, and will continue to meet all of its international commitments following a potential US trade deal.
I want to be clear that the NHS will also be protected in any future trade agreement, including one with the US. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, and nor will the services the NHS provides. Indded, the UK will continue to ensure that the NHS is protected in all trade agreements it is party to, whether transitioned from an EU context or as a result of new negotiations. Indeed, outside the EU, rigorous protections for our NHS will be maintained and included in any future trade agreement to which our country is party.
Moreover, the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions onto the UK statute book. This includes current import requirements, which for example ban the use of artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and stipulate that no products besides potable water are approved to decontaminate poultry carcases.
It is important to make the distinction between the Trade Bill and the Government’s future trade agreements programme. The process of negotiating future trade deals is not primarily a matter for the Trade Bill. There will be opportunities for both the public and Parliament to consider, contribute to and scrutinise negotiations for future free trade agreements. Public consultations will run ahead of all negotiations, and a number have already taken place, including for negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Ministers have also committed to provide Parliamentarians, UK citizens and businesses with access to the information they need on trade negotiations.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP