Thomas-Symonds: “Devil is in the detail” of UK deal to join Asia-Pacific trade bloc

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Nick Thomas-Symonds has argued that the “devil is in the detail” of the UK’s agreement to join the Asia-Pacific trade bloc and urged ministers to provide answers on “vital issues” including consumer safety and environmental protections.

It was announced overnight that the UK is joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – whose 11 members include Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore and Vietnam – following almost two years of negotiations.

The government said the deal “puts the UK at the heart of a dynamic group of economies” and “will support jobs and economic growth across the country”. It said it has been estimated that joining the bloc will boost the UK economy by £1.8bn “in the long run” – about 0.08% of the UK’s annual GDP.

Commenting on the announcement, the Shadow International Trade Secretary said it was “encouraging” that progress has been made in the CPTPP accession process.

But Thomas-Symonds added: “As so often with this Conservative government, the devil is in the detail. Ministers need to provide answers on vital issues, including on consumer safety, food safety, data protection and environmental protections.

“The Conservative government’s track record in striking good trade deals is desperately poor, with their own Prime Minister and MPs criticising the deal they struck with Australia. They also need to set out clear evidence to show that this does nothing to undermine the Windsor Framework.

“Other countries joining CPTPP arrangements have secured important safeguards and put in place support for their producers: it is vital that ministers set out if they plan to do the same.

“UK trade policy must promote democracy, workers’ rights and environmental protections worldwide, including through supply chains.”

Rishi Sunak claimed that the UK joining the trading bloc “demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms”. The Prime Minister argued that the country is “now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation”.

The government said the deal will cut tariffs on exports for UK industries including food, drink and cars. It claimed that the agreement “protects the UK’s vital industries and entities, including agriculture and the National Health Service” and upholds animal welfare and food safety standards.

The government said the UK and other CPTPP member states will now undertake the final legal and administrative steps required for the UK to formally join this year.

Commenting ahead of the government’s announcement, Paul Nowak argued that the deal was a “dire agreement for workers” and accused ministers of having repeatedly “turned a blind eye” to “egregious rights abuses” in pursuit of trade deals.

The TUC general secretary said: “Workplace exploitation is widespread in the countries involved in this agreement – from Vietnam and Brunei where independent unions are banned to Malaysia where migrant workers are subject to forced labour.

“This deal also allows multinational corporations to sue the UK government in secret courts for introducing policies which threaten their profits – this could include an increase in the minimum wage or bringing energy companies back into public ownership.

“Make no mistake – this is a dire agreement for workers. And it is little wonder after unions were completely shut out of negotiations, despite promises of a seat at the table.

“Instead of treating trade deals as publicity tools, the UK government should be using its leverage on the global stage to promote decent work, deliver green jobs and protect our public services.

“It’s time to meaningfully consult with unions and listen to our concerns. That’s how you get trade agreements that work for working people.”

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