Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 20, May 30, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Trade Bill

The Necessity for Trade on an Equal Basis and for Mutual Benefit, Where the People Decide

Whilst the pandemic continues, the government is finding time to rush through Parliament its new Trade Bill [1]. The Bill had its second reading on May 20 in the House of Commons, and now it is at the Committee stage and expected to be reported to the House by June 25. It then receives its third and final reading in the House of Commons and with passage through to the Lords is expected to become law in the summer. The Bill is to "Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements; to make provision establishing the Trade Remedies Authority and conferring functions on it; and to make provision about the collection and disclosure of information relating to trade." Although not very long, the Bill has already run into opposition from many quarters including people fighting to protect the NHS and protect food and agriculture standards from US de-regulation under the Trade Bill. [2]

At its second reading, the government claimed that the Bill was essential to "keep trade flowing and supply chains open, so that we can all have the essential supplies we need" during the coronavirus pandemic. The Secretary of State for International Trade, Elizabeth Truss, claimed: "Free trade and resilient supply chains will be crucial to the global economic recovery as the crisis passes." But what she then said showed that the government's plan for the Bill was to use the crisis to push through a "new US/UK trade Agreement". This is an agreement, she claimed, that for the steel industry "would provide a significant boost to our trade to this high-value market (steel imports and exports)". She claimed that the Bill was about "free trade" and spoke against what she called "protectionism" in agriculture, saying that "almost always ends up making the protected industry weaker".

Part 1 of the Bill signs Britain, its regions and separate nations to the implementation of an international trade agreement by "An Appropriate Authority" of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994, as amended on or before the United Kingdom's accession (the GPA [3]) which opens up government procurement markets among its parties. On this the Secretary of State claimed: "As an independent member, we are free to decide what procurement is covered under the agreement." However, on the statement she makes that "we are free to decide", who is the "we"? It will be "Government Ministers of the Crown" of Westminster and the devolved nations as the "appropriate authority". Neither will there any longer be the fig leaf of ratification of Britain's international "trade" agreements by Parliament in the proposed Bill. For certain, "we are free to decide" does not mean that the Bill empowers the people of Britain, in their nations, or regions, to make the decisions on international trade that benefit the interests of all.

Because of the opposition of the people on these questions, the Secretary of State also commented that Britain's GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK health services. "Our NHS is not on the table," she claimed during the second reading of the Bill. But Ministers have already decided through the present European Union procurement legislation to privatise public services to overseas companies including NHS bodies. There is nothing in the Trade Bill that will replace the EU legislation, that does not put the NHS on the table, where Ministers and the state are the decision makers.

Part II of the Bill sets up the The Trades Remedies Authority which will advise the Secretary of State "in conducting international trade disputes", including "analysis of trade remedy measures imposed in countries, or territories other than the United Kingdom", and analysis of the "impact of such measures on producers and exporters in the United Kingdom." In speaking about the Bill, the Secretary of State also said: "The Bill will embed market access for British companies by enabling the UK to join the WTO's Government procurement agreement as an independent member. This will provide businesses with continued access to the extraordinary opportunities of the global procurement market, worth some £1.3 trillion a year."

In other words, Britain's imperialist interests are to continue to be renewed and enforced by international trade agreements with former colonies in the commonwealth, in Africa, Asia and throughout the world where services and trade with British companies are concerned. Such trade and procuring of military and civil contracts in these countries is directed by the financial oligarchy and monopolies, and will continue to be unequal trade where the wealth of the peoples of the world continue to be exploited by the ruling elite in Britain.

What this reveals alongside the present EU trade regulations is that present international trade deals increasingly cover every aspect of the socialised economy, with neo-liberal standards that make maximum profits for the rich. The agreements dictate social conditions on the people at home and in developing countries from food standards, to working conditions, to the provision of healthcare, as well as enabling financial arrangements that often dictate privatisation of water and other vital utilities. Most of these international trade agreements also contain a provision for "investor state dispute settlements" which enable corporations to sue governments in secret offshore tribunals over any government policy that might affect the "future anticipated profits" of investors. For example, in the present pandemic, where these trade arrangements have failed to secure the quality and quantity of the most vital equipment to protect and save life, it has now been reported that many corporations are preparing legal cases to sue governments over the pandemic measures that they have taken [4]. As such, it is these trade deals that have undermined all those civil society and public authority measures that were previously the remit of national parliaments but are now directly imposed by monopoly interests.

The Trade Bill represents the latest attempt by the government and ruling elite to use the conditions of Brexit and the present pandemic to rail-road through a bill to strengthen the police powers of the executive to agree international trade agreements that serve monopoly private interests at home and abroad. This is being carried out in the context of the ruling elite's scramble for wealth as part of the imperialist system of states, using the mantra of "opposing protectionism" and for "free trade" as the deception to exploit the resources and peoples at home and around the world.

As part of their independent programme, it is essential that working people in Britain oppose the Trade Bill. The Trade Bill will be used for these international trade agreements which go against the interests of every aspect of human life in Britain and abroad; most importantly, the right of people to decide their own arrangements. The necessity for trade on an equal basis and for mutual benefit is what is called for, where the people are fully involved in making the decisions. The working class and people must accept nothing less in their struggle for a new society that implements trade on an equal basis and for the mutual benefit of all.


[1] Trade Bill

[2]Farmers urge UK government to protect food standards in post-Brexit trade bill
Farmers, environmentalists and consumer groups are pressing the government to honour its manifesto pledge not to undermine food standards with low-quality imports in a post-Brexit trade policy. A coalition of organisations, led by the National Farmers Union, failed to secure amendments in the Commons to the agriculture bill last week to protect UK farmers and producers from lower-quality imports from countries like the US. Imports that are of particular concern to UK farmers and producers include US poultry products, including chlorinated chicken, eggs and hormone-injected beef.

[3] World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA)
The GPA is a plurilateral agreement within the framework of the WTO, meaning that not all WTO members are parties to the Agreement. At present, the Agreement has 20 parties comprising 48 WTO members. 35 WTO members/observers participate in the GPA Committee as observers. Out of these, 12 members are in the process of acceding to the Agreement.

The fundamental aim of the GPA is to mutually open government procurement markets among its parties. As a result of several rounds of negotiations, the GPA parties have opened procurement activities worth an estimated US$ 1.7 trillion annually to international competition (i.e. to suppliers from GPA parties offering goods, services or construction services).

[4] Corporate Europe Observatory: Cashing in on the Pandemic
As governments take action to fight the COVID-19 pandemic... states could face multi-million dollar lawsuits.


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