Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 24, June 27, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Resistance to the Government's Trade Bill 2019-21:

The Necessity to Limit the Power of the Monopolies to Impose Trade Agreements on Society

The Trade Bill, which the government rushed into Parliament during the height of the coronavirus pandemic with its Second Reading on May 20 [1], has been in the Committee stage, which was due to have reported back to Parliament on Friday, June 25.

During the Committee stage, evidence was presented to the Public Bill Committee in writing and in person by individuals and organisations. Written and verbal evidence presented by the Trade Justice Movement [2] summarised their position with the following points: "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 essential 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 [3] - 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 are being presented to government alongside the opposition all over Britain. A petition calling on government "to guarantee that our health service will never form part of any trade deal" has now reached over 1.3 million signatures, and a National Farmers Union petition with now over 1 million signatures calls on the government "to make sure food imports meet UK production standards." [4]

The latest amendment paper to the Bill listed on June 25 contains all the paper amendments made in Committee stage [5]. These are all amendments made by the Labour Party, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru MPs, and reflect many of the concerns raised by the written and verbal submissions and the movement against the Bill at large. However, in the face of this massive opposition to their Trade Bill, the government has argued against even these amendments. It has presented no amendments itself to the Trade Bill and evidently has every intention of ignoring the voice of people.

What is more, the government denies to the Committee any details of its trade agreement negotiations with the US, which are currently being discussed. Greg Hands, Minister for Trade Policy, said during the Committee meeting of June 23: "I was being very generous in saying that my door was open, but it is not open to discuss the content of the current negotiations with the US. That, of course, is a matter - in the proper way - for statements to Parliament, but that is a live negotiation, so what may or may not be in that negotiation is probably a matter for that negotiation." In other words, all of the assurances that the government has given in the past and in its election manifesto - that the "NHS is not on the table" and that "we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards" - are no longer stated when the negotiations have started with the US. This clearly reveals that these vital issues over which the people should have control are being discussed with the US negotiators.

What is more, the Minister's claim that the "proper way" is via statements to Parliament sounds pretty hollow when the amendments highlight that the Bill in its current form makes no provision for parliamentary scrutiny of any deal. In fact, Parliament has no legal right under this Bill to debate or vote on a trade deal, or even to know what it contains, as the Committee stage discussions show. Further, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also granted no formal role in negotiating or approving trade treaties.

This rule by the executive is to enable international trade deals on behalf of international global finance capital and the global monopolies to dictate social conditions to the people at home and abroad from food standards, to working conditions, and to the provision of healthcare. It enables other financial arrangements that dictate neo-liberal privatisation in the rationing of social housing, water, gas, transport and other vital parts of the social economy that should instead be guaranteed for all. 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".

The resistance that is continuing to the Trade Bill demands an outcome that is in favour of the working class and people. The movement is at the stage of resistance to a government and its Trade Bill that imposes international agreements in favour of the global monopolies. The working class movement has the experience of opposing TTIP successfully in 2014 alongside the workers' movement in Europe [6]. The necessity is to limit the power of the monopolies to impose trade agreements on society that are against the rights and interests of all at home and abroad. The movement must get organised with new initiatives to further build this resistance movement to the Trade Bill and the international trade agreements it enables, in the struggle for a new society that implements trade on an equal basis and for the mutual benefit of all.

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

[2] Written Evidence: Trade Justice Movement (TB02)

[3] Trade Bill Evidence to the Trade Bill Committee June 2020 - "Continuity" Agreements
The TUC submission points out that: "Trade unions were not consulted on the text of any of the nineteen continuity agreements that have been finalised [now 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries - WW] This is particularly concerning as many of these deals were with countries where labour and human rights abuses are widespread, such as Colombia and South Korea. In South Korea, trade union leaders have been thrown in prison for peaceful protest for workers to claim their rights. Colombia, meanwhile, remains the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists with around two thirds of murders of trade unionists taking place in Colombia."

[4] Petitions: Calling on our government to guarantee that our health service will never form part of ANY trade deal (1.3 million)

National Farmers' Union: Food standards petition (1 million)

[5] Public Bill Committee Amendments as of 25 June 2020

[6] The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was a Euro-Atlantic free trade agreement that was the subject of ongoing negotiations between the US and the EU. The deadline for finalising the TTIP free trade agreement was in 2015. Its goal was to create a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) and to cement the European Union with the United States as one supranational trading bloc. In 2014, protests against TTIP on October 11 took place in 22 countries across Europe - marches, rallies and other public events - in over 1,000 locations in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic and Scandinavian countries. The resistance movement persuaded many countries to distance themselves from the deal, which completely collapsed when US President Trump withdrew the US from the talks, although there are reports that talks have continued in secret. The EU did sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. (Source: Workers' Weekly)


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