Barry laid out Labour's policy on international trade to the Unite fringe at TUC Congress on 11 September 2017.
Simon – thank you so much for organising this meeting. I’m very grateful to you and Unite for the opportunity to set out some of the party’s key thinking on international trade policy. And in particular to hear what Tony, Rosa and John have all had to say as well.
For the first time in 40 years trade policy is coming back to the top of the political agenda.
The Conservative government has at last announced that they are going to publish a White Paper on International Trade this month. For almost an entire year I have been badgering Liam Fox for a Trade White Paper. And it’s certainly taken him long enough…
Donald Trump managed to publish his trade policy within seven weeks of coming into office, yet I have been on the record from last November asking the government for one here.
They showed how little they understand about trade when they published their industrial strategy green paper. Trade was nowhere to be seen in it.
How can you have a sensible trade policy unless it is integrated fully with your industrial strategy? And how can you have a sensible industrial policy unless it is fully integrated with your trade strategy?
No dates yet – but the Trade Bill and Customs Bill are both due to be presented to parliament at some point this autumn. This means that the phoney war is coming to an end, and we are now entering the serious phase of deciding what type of trade policy we want to see for this country.
That is why today’s fringe is so timely, and why we will be coming back to many of these themes when the Labour Party holds its conference here in Brighton in two weeks’ time.
Labour believes in an open, rules-based international trading system because of the economic benefits and life chances that trade can bring working people. Exports of goods and services account for 30% of the UK’s economic output, and trade unions in this country represent millions of workers in industries that depend on exports for their jobs.
This is why the Labour Party is so insistent that Brexit must not allow us to leave the EU without a proper trade deal in place. We simply cannot abandon those people who depend on trade with the rest of Europe for their jobs and their livelihoods.
So for us it is clear what our priorities now must be. First and foremost is to secure continued barrier-free trade with the EU. The EU is, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be, our biggest trading partner.
So we reject Theresa May’s suggestion that ‘no deal’ is an option. ‘No deal’ would mean we would be required by WTO rules to raise a full set of trade barriers between the UK and the rest of Europe, with all the chaos and disruption this would cause.
I’ve been asked to give you a sense of some key areas where Labour’s trade policy offers a different vision to the Conservatives’. And those differences go well beyond our approach to the EU. So here is a whistle-stop tour of some of the most important.
In the Labour Party we take jobs and labour rights seriously. That is why we call ourselves the Labour movement.
We will not allow them to be undermined by new trade deals.
We have pledged to commission a full and independent assessment of each new trade agreement at the earliest stage in the proceedings so we can get a proper sense of the potential impact on jobs across the various sectors of our economy.
That is also why I put into our general election manifesto the commitment that we will tighten the rules on corporate accountability for labour rights violations in supply chains overseas.
It is why we will prevent decent jobs in this country from being undercut by dumping and other unfair trade practices by others in the international community. And in this regard, I want to pay particular tribute to the work that Tony and others in Unite have done in combining so successfully with the steel, ceramics and other industry federations to force this issue of trade remedies up the political agenda.
Labour takes public services seriously. We will ensure that trade agreements do not undermine our democratic ability to deliver public services and to take decisions about the public good.
When a Labour administration is elected by the British people on a platform to renationalise our railways or to take key services back into public control, then it is simply unacceptable that a trade treaty should prevent us from doing so.
That is why when we made a manifesto pledge that after we left the EU we would re-join in our own right the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement, we said we would safeguard the capacity for public bodies to make procurement decisions in line with public policy objectives. This is crucial if we are to be able to use the £200 billion spent each year by national and local government to create positive social value for our citizens’ future.
We take the law seriously.
To be precise, we uphold the central principle of ‘equality before the law’ that can be traced back 800 years to the Magna Carta.
One of the key reasons that Labour came to reject TTIP and CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, is that both treaties included the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.
ISDS granted multinational corporations their own exclusive judicial system – unavailable to trade unions, governments or anyone else – through which to sue host countries if they believe that public policy decisions have resulted in a loss of profits.
Labour rejects the concept of ISDS in all its forms.
Unlike the Tories, we actually believe in the integrity and impartiality of the system of justice we have in this country. We believe that foreign investors can be fully confident that they will receive the same justice as domestic British businesses and the rest of us, in the same courts.
By the same token, we take democracy seriously. You will have seen the extraordinary scenes last week as the government tried to defend its power grab from parliament in the EU Withdrawal Bill. That debate will reach its conclusion in the Commons tonight, and I’m sorry that means I won’t be staying over in Brighton to enjoy some of Tony’s fine hospitality.
But if you think the EU withdrawal is bad, just wait until we get to the Trade Bill. Under the existing rules, the House of Commons has no power whatsoever to hold government to account for the trade deals it negotiates with foreign countries. Yet these deals are international treaties with binding obligations on future administrations – you can’t repeal them like you can domestic legislation, and they take priority over your national laws.
We will be fighting every step of the way to ensure the Trade Bill provides for proper parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals in the future, and I call on everyone here and throughout the trade union movement to join us in that fight.
We need our Trade Agreements to be transparent to parliament, with mandates agreed after proper public consultation with you in the Trade Union Movement and with other industry associations and NGOs.
We totally reject the idea that this government can bring back the power to negotiate trade agreements from Europe and then bypass parliament and allow ministers to pass trade agreements simply by laying them before parliament for 21 days with no debate – no vote.
In your dreams, Liam Fox!
We will fight you all the way.
There’s much more that I’d like to say:
- about our export incentive scheme for small businesses looking to get involved in trading overseas;
- about our support for the environmental goods and services sector that already provides 370,000 jobs in this country and could sustain so many more;
- about our plans to create a network of regional trade and investment champions so that the growth and employment benefits are felt right across the UK;
- about our commitment to the world’s poorest countries so that they can continue to enjoy access to the UK market on the same terms that they have to date.
But let me finish with this thought.
With Brexit, the UK is taking back responsibility for its own trade policy for the first time in 40 years. This means we must choose what model of trade and investment we wish to see in the future.
We can follow the Conservative Party’s model that hands even more power to a tiny transnational elite and consigns our small businesses, our public services and our hard-won labour rights to the dustbin of history…
Or we can choose a new model that celebrates the benefits of trade and foreign investment at the same time as it safeguards people’s jobs, society’s needs and the environment’s future sustainability.
Labour offers that new model. And with your help and the support of trade unionists up and down Britain, I look forward to being able to deliver it when we form the next administration in this country.