|Volume 51 Number 2, January 23, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
The Trade Bill 2020-2021, which the government tried to rush through Parliament at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 with the aim of becoming law in the summer of 2020, came back this year to the House of Commons on January 19 for the "ping pong" debate. In this debate the amendments made by the House of Lords in its passage through the Lords from July 2020 were rejected by the government almost in their entirety. Now the Bill returns to the Lords where the Commons' Amendments to the Lords' Amendments  will be debated on February 2 before the Bill returns to the the House of Commons for the final time and becomes law. However, without the Bill being passed, the government has continued to negotiate and agree trade agreements using its executive powers.
The Bill had been delayed mainly because of the opposition of the people and their fight, especially on protecting the NHS and other public services from being handed over to global corporations. It is this fight that gave rise to amendments to the Bill in the Commons and the Lords. The fight started early on in June 2020 in the committee stage in the Commons where submissions were made. For example, the Trade Justice Movement submission highlighted that: "The government is pressing ahead with trade negotiations with the US and elsewhere, despite there being no system of transparency or democratic scrutiny of trade deals. The Trade Bill provides an opportunity to set out a democratic process for trade agreements. MPs should support amendments which provide for this. The Trade Bill should also include amendments which maintain UK food and animal welfare standards and protect the NHS and public health from provisions in trade deals. The Covid crisis has hit global trade. It is essent ial that the UK trade policy maintains the right to regulate, protects the NHS and supports countries in the Global South."
The TUC also made a written and verbal submission in which it pointed out that the Trade Bill "makes no mention of the role for unions or parliament in negotiations and scrutiny of 'continuity' agreements, provides no representation for trade unions on the Trade Remedies Authority, makes no commitment that UK trade deals will enforce respect for core International Labour Organisation conventions - makes no commitment that UK trade deals will protect public services - does not affirm that UK public procurement rules will support good work, fair pay, trade union recognition and collective agreements."
In addition to the evidence and verbal submissions, a number of petitions were presented to government alongside the opposition all over Britain. A Change.org petition calling on government "to guarantee that our health service will never form part of any trade deal" reached over 1.3 million signatures, and a National Farmers Union petition with over 1 million signatures calls on the government "to make sure food imports meet UK production standards".
In October 2020, there was a successful national day of action around Britain to protest against the government's proposed trade deal with the United States and other trade deals. The protest was organised by Global Justice Now, War on Want, Keep Our NHS Public and other organisations. Hundreds took part in the physically-distanced protests in London's Parliament Square, as well as other events organised in Ayrshire, Bexhill and Hastings, Bournemouth, Bradford, Cambridge, Cleveland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Macclesfield, Manchester, Merseyside, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oswestry, Oxford, Portsmouth, Reading, Sunderland, York and other cities and towns.
The government has not only ignored these concerns but has, during the pandemic, continued to negotiate trade deals around the world and continued to hand over billions of pounds of health service contracts and other public health service contracts to the global corporations using its executive powers.
On Tuesday, January 19, the Minister for Trade Policy, Greg Hands, opening the Commons debate on the Trade Bill, said: "We have already signed agreements with 63 partner countries". Sixty of those were signed with countries outside of the EU . He claimed: "Most of those trade agreements are now trading under those terms. Standards have not been undermined in any of those agreements." However, what he failed to mention was that many of those agreements were transfers of the previous agreements under the EU trade agreements and that the government had and has no intention of honouring the "standards" recorded in those agreements when it doesn't suit them.
This was the case when both the government and the opposition in the debate focused on accusing China of human rights abuses against the Muslim Uyghurs community and Muslims in Myanmar when debating the amendment on including human rights in the Trade Bill. However none mentioned Britain's human rights abuses in its brutal colonial rule of China up to the 20th century and its colonial occupation of Hong Kong until 1997, nor its continued interference there in the affairs of the Chinese people. Westminster turns a blind eye to Britain's track record of warmongering and torturing. One need only mention the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and the racist treatment of British people in the Asian, African-Caribbean and Muslim communities in this country over many decades.
Britain's true human rights record in trade agreements was highlighted in the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Lords in September 2020 when Baroness Tongue had said: "I have been told, after Questions to the Government, that the terms of the old EU association agreements have been adopted in the new agreement between the UK and Israel. This trade agreement was signed as long ago as August 2019 with, as far as I know, no parliamentary scrutiny at all. The terms of the new agreement, as in the old one, include Israel's commitment to observing human rights and democratic principles, and adopt, 'as a main objective, the encouragement of regional cooperation with a view to the consolidation of peaceful coexistence and economic and political stability.' Baroness Tongue went on to condemn this trade agreement when "The Government of Israel allow the constant humiliation and persecution of the Palestinian people under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Land is stolen, crops are destroyed, water is restricted and almost always polluted, and electricity is rationed to a few meagre hours a day. Children are harassed and badly treated in prison, and many have been killed; in fact 3,000 children have been killed in the last 17 years. Homes are demolished and families made homeless. I could go on and on, as noble Lords know. Is this Israel's adherence to the terms of the new trade agreement? Is this how it respects human rights? We can no longer fall back on the European Union for a decision - not that it ever took a lot of action. The monitoring of the terms of the agreement is now our responsibility and ours alone. Will the Minister tell the House how this monitoring is to be done?"
The conclusion one can draw from the latest "ping-pong" direction of the debates in Parliament is that they more reflect the contradictions developing amongst the ruling elite in how to enrich themselves in the world and the attempt to deflect the opposition of the people in a chauvinist direction against their rivals.
It is clear today that the people are in no mood to accept this situation and are speaking out on these questions, and that a new human-centred anti-war direction is needed in international relations and trade. The resistance of the people to the Trade Bill shows that the fight continues to limit the power of the global monopolies to impose trade agreements on society and that the issue is that the people themselves should decide these vital questions based on fraternal relations between peoples.
1. Commons reasons and amendments to certain Lords amendments
2. UK trade agreements with non-EU countries that took effect from January 1 2021