Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 28, July 25, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Trade Bill 2019-21:

The Necessity to Speak Out in the Fight to Limit the Power
of the Monopolies to Impose Trade Agreements on Society

On Monday, July 20, the government continued to press through its Trade Bill 2019-21 in Parliament. It has now completed all its stages in the House of Commons and it has now been passed to the House of Lords. In the debate, the government brushed aside the Opposition clauses aimed at giving Parliament some control over new and ongoing trade agreements, some protection for the NHS, and food and environmental standards, as well as workers' rights in trade agreements, which millions of people have been demanding since the Bill was tabled. Instead, the government introduced its own new clauses to further strengthen its executive power arrangements over trade agreement decisions, with new clauses allowing different public authorities to share data.

The new clause 5 that the government introduced "would allow named public authorities to share information for the purpose of facilitating the exercise of a Minister's functions relating to trade", according to Greg Hands, Minister for Trade Policy opening the report on the Trade Bill. He said: "The government have set out our ambition to have a world-leading border by 2050. This will support our aim to make the UK a globally attractive place to do business as we move forward. To achieve that ambition, the government need to make better use of the data we currently hold, and new clauses 5 and 6 are aimed at doing just that." He continued: "The government have also tabled amendments which make minor changes to the existing clause 8. These amendments are to enable Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs data to be shared with all Ministers of the Crown, where HMRC is satisfied that the data may be shared for the Minister's functions relating to trade."

The Minister, in saying that the government's aim is its "ambition to have a world-leading border by 2050", is revealing more about the ambition not just of the government but of the financial oligarchy, the oligopolies that the government represents. The global oligarchy with its factions in cut-throat competition, are aiming to get further control of state authorities, of the customs arrangements and of national borders for their own interests. The Minister even spelt it out in the new clauses that the government would assist in doing just that. The government is rejecting out of hand all of the concerns that the people and nations of Britain have expressed to the Trade Bill.

Among the amendments rejected by the government were ones in the name of Jonathan Djanogly, Conservative MP for Huntingdon. He had tabled clauses that require parliamentary approval of trade agreements. Addressing the House of Commons, he said: "I speak to the new clauses tabled in my name, and those of others, concerning the scrutiny of free trade agreements. Simply put, today the House must address the question of whether, post Brexit, the UK will have less scrutiny of free trade agreements than we had before Brexit. That is the current government proposal, which I suggest flies in the face of the claim that we leave the EU to take back control."

It was a similar story on the other amendments rejected by the government. On the amendment that would ensure that the consent of a devolved government was required, Steward Hosie, SNP MP for Dundee East, said, "It strikes me as fundamental that if we are to genuinely respect the devolved settlement in the UK, Ministers must self-evidently gain the consent of the devolved Administrations before making changes to regulations that directly affect them."

On the clause that had the aim to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of Britain from any form of control from outside the UK, Labour MP for Jarrow Kate Osborne said: "I received hundreds of emails from constituents asking me to ensure that the NHS is kept off the table in any trade negotiations. I share their concerns." She pointed out that the interests of corporate America would come first in any trade deal, and that they will want a deal on their own terms both on the market in health and demanding that the NHS pays higher prices for drugs.

On the clauses rejected by the government that would set a requirement for imported agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare standards which are at least as high as those which apply to the United Kingdom, with appropriate protection for agriculture and the environment, Mary Foy, Labour MP for City of Durham, said: "My inbox is full of constituents worried that this government are so desperate for a US trade deal that they will water down food standards, allowing for chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef to be sold on the shelves of British shops. No doubt the government will say that is scaremongering, but I ask them to explain to the farmers and voters in my constituency why they will not place food standards guarantees into the Bill. Finally, the Bill lacks any guarantee of workers' rights, human rights or environmental protections. They are vital to protecting our planet, and to improving living and working conditions across the world. They must be a cond ition of any trade deal and must be included in the Bill."

Increasingly, we see such trade agreements dictating 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.

All the rhetoric of the government about Britain "taking back control" is being further exposed in the resistance that is continuing to the Trade Bill. The reality further exposed is that the government, through its executive power, aims to further hand over control to these international corporations at the expense of the rights and interests of the peoples and nations of Britain as well the peoples and nations worldwide. Whatever happens with the outcome of the Trade Bill, this struggle is bringing to the fore the necessity for the people to have the power to make the decisions. Through their actions, the working class and people are speaking out in the fight 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.


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