Yesterday Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, joined the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), alongside partners, to speak on human rights within trade deals post-Brexit.
He called for coordinated action to ensure that human rights are not lost in the details of trade negotiations when the new International Trade department begins its work to secure deals with countries across the world in the next few months.
Lord Green was a former Minister of State for the FCO (Trade and Investment) and is a member of the European Committee and EU Internal Market Sub-committee. He spoke of two primary challenges the UK now faces following the result of the referendum: negotiating the terms of Brexit and re-negotiating trade agreements with both the EU and the approximately 50 countries with trade agreements with the EU. While negotiations start with other countries in the coming weeks, there are concerns that human rights may be overlooked to secure quick lucrative deals.
EU trade policy, which the UK will no longer help construct, has increasingly incorporated human rights considerations into bilateral foreign trade agreements, unilateral preferences and EU export controls policy. The European Commission’s published trade policy also states that “trade policy can be a powerful tool to further the advancement of human rights in third countries in conjunction with other EU policies.”
Now however, the UK enters uncharted territory and is solely responsible for its own trade policy. Lord Green called immediately for a coordinated approach among human rights and business groups to ensure that human rights clauses are included when the UK is securing new trade deals with other nations. He recommended that labour rights, already present in trade agreements, are focused on and broadened out to include non-discrimination clauses and emphasised the need for research into how human rights can tangibly and meaningfully be incorporated within the deals.
While the new Prime Minister’s focus will be on EU-related issues, this ought to be deemed an opportunity to establish how the UK engages with other nations in its trade negotiations, ensuring that they enhance rather than harm the rights of the UK and other nations’ citizens alike.
Ensuring human rights, such as freedom of religion or belief, are on the trade agenda is perhaps now more essential than ever before.