Liberal Democrats

F35: International Trade and the DIT

Motion as passed by conference

Submitted by: 14 members

Mover: Sarah Olney MP (Spokesperson for Business and Trade).

Summation: Dr Phil Bennion.

Conference notes that:

  1. The UK has completed 23 EU replacement 'rollover' trade negotiations since leaving the EU, with a further 13 with temporary arrangements, and with three still under negotiation, many details of which remain unpublished in full.
  2. The UK has currently negotiated only one new trade agreement which is not a replacement EU agreement, with Australia, and is also reportedly attempting to negotiate similar 'new' deals with New Zealand, USA, GCC, Canada and India.

Conference believes that:

  1. The British Government's desperate need to hurriedly 'chalk up' trade deals, has led to a weak negotiating effort, in part facilitated by unsuitable constitutional limitations on Parliament's ability to withhold consent from disadvantageous treaty terms, which thus largely eliminate the UK trade negotiators' fear of treaties being voted down in Parliament if terms are disadvantageous.
  2. The government is giving away sensible human rights and anti-conflict conditions in trade agreements and apparently happy to lower public standards dangerously for imports, without achieving significant concessions in return.
  3. The current exodus of international expertise and assets from the UK and the City of London represents a further neglect of the economy, with lost tax receipts and reductions of domestic income.

Conference expresses grave concerns at:

  1. The apparent willingness of the UK government to permit private corporations to sue for any losses incurred as a result of UK policy changes, in trade agreements, via investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems.
  2. Reports that major concessions are being agreed or offered by the UK government via side agreements which are not made public in a timely way.
  3. That the Conservative government has failed to guarantee British standards on animal welfare and environmental protection in trade deals, placing British farmers at risk.

Conference calls for:

  1. Extension of full parliamentary sovereignty to trade agreements, such that the old so-called Ponsonby Rule on scrutiny and the later CraG process in both Houses, end in a parliamentary vote, without which any trade agreement cannot receive Royal Assent.
  2. Full and timely transparency in both interim and final trade deals which have been agreed, including timely publication of any side agreements or significant MoUs, so that there can be proper parliamentary scrutiny.
  3. Transparent public consultation on proposed trade deals, throughout the process, including with representatives of small and medium-sized businesses, and including reports to Parliament at each stage.
  4. A set of minimum standards for benchmarking future trade agreements; to include human rights, conflict and oppression, environmental, labour and safety standards, where they can be negotiated, based on a UK Trade and Human Rights Policy, and a Trade and Development Policy; as a UK successor to the Cotonou agreement.
  5. A multilateral judicial process instead of ISDS, where precedent and case law transparently play a central part, and where disputes are resolved openly in a proper manner; rather than via the government's preferred secretive 'smoke filled room' approach.
  6. The strengthening of the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, to allow it to review the impact of international trade deals before Parliament approves it.