Aldersgate Group urges UK government to lower trade tariffs and barriers for low carbon goods and services after Brexit
Future UK trade deals should include enforceable environmental and climate commitments for all parties, while tariffs should be lowered for low carbon goods and services, in order to "strengthen the UK's competitive advantage" post-Brexit.
Those are the key demands from green organisations, universities, trade bodies, and major corporates which have today jointly called on the government to ensure its upcoming trade agreements support, rather than undermine, the UK's environmental and climate ambitions.
In a briefing on trade policy released today, the Aldersgate Group - members of which include universities, NGOs, trade associations and leading businesses such as IKEA, KPMG, National Grid, John Lewis, Tesco, and Sky - sets out key policy recommendations it argues would help "maximise the opportunities" from free trade agreements.
As well as calling for a green recovery package to help rebuild the UK economy after the pandemic, the Aldersgate Group said environmental and climate considerations should be at the heart of all future trade deals, and that trade barriers should be removed from low carbon goods and services.
Such reciprocal commitments considerations could see both trading partners having to agree to play their part in delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement, the briefing states, echoing previous calls from French President Emmanuel Macron for the EU to only agree trade deals with countries committed to the climate accord.
Backing such calls, Alan Tinline, head of environment at port operator Associated British Ports (ABP), said an ambitious trade policy could both grow trade as well as enhance environmental standards. "An ambitious trade policy can further boost UK exports in low carbon technologies, goods and services, helping to achieve shared objectives on decarbonisation, sustainable trade growth and economic rebalancing," he said.
The Aldersgate Group also warns the government against agreeing to any regulatory mechanisms in future trade deals that restrict the UK's ability to introduce its own future environmental policies, and calls for "robust" parliamentary scrutiny of any future agreements.
And, in parallel with greener trade policy, the UK should embark on an ambitious domestic green policy drive, including the establishment of strict product standards to grow the market for low carbon goods and services, requiring all businesses active on the UK market to comply, the report argued.
Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, said that with stringent green conditions attached, future free trade deals could "strengthen the UK's competitive advantage in the growing global market for low carbon goods and services and increase the UK's international standing".
"But without the right provisions, these agreements could make it harder for the UK to achieve its domestic targets and could create an uneven playing field for British businesses forced to compete with imports abiding by lower climate and environmental standards," he warned. "Existing free trade agreements have paid insufficient attention to environmental and climate considerations, with environmental terms often playing second fiddle to economic terms. With the business community strongly behind the UK's environmental and climate ambitions, the Global Britain agenda should be about creating a first of a kind trade policy that puts environmental and clean growth considerations at the heart of future trade deals."
It comes amid ongoing trade talks between the UK and EU aimed at striking a trade deal and avoiding a no-deal Brexit cliff-edge at the end of December, which many believe would be damaging to both environmental standards and the green economy. Simultaneously, UK negotiators are also seeking to strike a separate free trade deal with the US, which has prompted concerns from farmers and environmentalists over allowing lower standard food - such as chlorinated chicken - onto the UK market.
But with time running short between now and the December Brexit deadline, concern is rising within the green economy that little progress is being made on overcoming differences between both the UK and EU, and the UK and US, over trade standards. The EU insists a 'level playing field' on trade standards is required for a deal, but the UK remains determined to maintain flexibility on setting its own standards on products and services in order to secure a deal with the US.
However, it continues to insist that any future trade deals will not undermine the UK's existing environmental, food and animal welfare standards, although it has so far declined to give this commitment binding legal backing in its flagship Environment and Trade Bills currently making their way through Parliament.
"We have been clear that in all of our trade negotiations the UK will not compromise on our renowned high environmental protection standards," said a spokesperson for the Department for International Trade in response to the Aldersgate Group's recommendations.
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