Trade farce as Government ratifies treaties before debate can take place

31 October 2018

The Government was today accused of treating Parliament with contempt by giving MPs a rare chance to debate trading arrangements with African countries but only after the agreements had already been ratified.

With all eyes on the Budget, behind the scenes a debate in Parliament will see politicians debate the merits of the UK ratifying the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements with groups of African countries despite the fact that ratification was finalised last week and cannot be undone.

The international development charity Traidcraft Exchange is urging parliamentarians to ensure such a situation cannot be repeated once the UK assumes direct powers to make trade agreements after Brexit.

“This week’s trade farce must never happen again – it is absurd for MPs to debate the merits of trade deals after the Government has already rubber-stamped them through,” said Matt Grady, Senior Policy Adviser for Traidcraft Exchange.

Critics have highlighted a number of flaws with the three sets of Economic Partnership Agreements under consideration by MPs.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s special representative to Africa, Gunther Nooke, recently said that Economic Partnership Agreements, “are no success story, neither for Africa nor for Europe”.

The impact assessment for the new agreement with Ghana failed to include any analysis of what the trade deal would do for poverty levels in that country.

“No trade deal should ever be signed before a proper, independent impact assessment has been carried out. The law should be changed to ensure this happens for all trade agreements, particularly as the UK seeks to secure new deals post-Brexit,” concluded Matt Grady.

Campaigners have proposed alternative post-Brexit trading arrangements that would see the UK eliminate tariffs on goods from African countries without making new demands on their governments.

But the opportunity to raise these concerns and suggest alternatives comes after the deals have already been waived through using statutory instruments that limit parliamentary scrutiny and give the Government power to make decisions as it sees fit.

ENDS

For more information or to interview Matt Grady contact Tom Sharman:

tom.sharman@traidcraft.org or 07757 753 318

Notes for editors:

  • Traidcraft Exchange is an international development charity which uses the power of trade to bring about lasting solutions to poverty. It runs development programmes in South Asia and Africa, works directly with businesses to improve their supply chains, and does advocacy and campaigning in the UK to promote justice and fairness in international trade. It works closely with specialist fair trade company Traidcraft plc. Traidcraft Exchange is a registered charity, no. 1048752: https://www.traidcraft.org.uk/

  • The House of Commons is due to debate Economic Partnership Agreements in a Statutory Instruments Committee on 31st October.

  • There are 3 different Economic Partnership Agreements under consideration:

    • An agreement with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) includes Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and eSwatini (Swaziland).

    • An interim agreement with the Eastern and Southern African states: Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zimbabwe, and Comoros.

    • An interim agreement with Ghana.

  • Gunther Nooke is Angela Merkel’s special representative to Africa and was quoted in EurActiv on 12 April 2017: https://www.euractiv.com/section/africa/news/merkels-man-in-africa-downbeat-on-prospects-for-africa-eu-summit/

  • The command papers to ratify the Economic Partnership Agreements were laid before Parliament on the 19th and 20th of July using the negative procedure which means they are automatically ratified in the absence of a vote against. Such a vote can only take place in rare circumstances effectively meaning no proper scrutiny takes place.

Tom Sharman