MPs criticise lack of information and unhelpful responses from Government on India trade negotiations
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The International Trade Committee published its report on UK trade negotiations with India last month.
In their report, MPs noted that the briefings they received from Government on the negotiations, designed to inform the Committee’s all-important scrutiny, have been extremely limited in scope. Even requests for basic information were met with unhelpful responses.
The Committee found itself gleaning more detail from reports in the Indian media, often citing unnamed Indian government officials, than from the UK Government. The report has urged the Government to give the Parliament more information on live trade negotiations.
The fact that the Government is no longer putting arbitrary deadlines on trade negotiations was welcomed in the report. It also found that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s widely-trailed deadline to get a deal with India “done by Diwali” was unrealistic.
One issue highlighted in the report was the need to reconcile the UK Government’s wish to see India’s patent laws tightened to benefit UK drug companies with the need to maintain NHS access to cheap generic drugs produced in India. The Committee also noted possible implications from the deal for standards and checks regarding the quality and safety of goods, including food products and medicines.
The report suggested the possibility of attaching to any trade liberalisation in the deal the condition that India implement UN and International Labour Organization human rights conventions, and showing that (where applicable) goods meet environmental sustainability and animal welfare requirements.
Other highlighted issues include:
The potential impacts of trade liberalisation on industries in the UK and India, as well as in developing countries that compete with India.
Trade in services, including possible commitments on widening market access, granting more business visas and mutual recognition of professional qualifications.
Possible inclusion in an agreement of investor-state dispute settlement, a controversial provision that allows international investors to sue governments over laws (such as environmental protections) that affect their interests.
MPs had to publish the report before they could complete their inquiry, as the Committee was dissolved on 26 April, to be succeeded by the Business and Trade Committee.
The report’s analysis of the UK-India talks and series of questions about them, were placed on the record by MPs for both the Government and their successor committee.
Commenting on the report, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, Chair of the International Trade Committee, said: “A trade deal with India is an opportunity to enhance our trading relationship with the fifth-largest economy in the world. But this agreement must not come at any cost. As our report highlights, there are important issues at stake, including potential impacts on NHS drug costs, human and labour rights, gender equality and pesticide standards.
“Parliament must be kept more fully informed about the negotiations. It cannot be right that we have obtained more details from the Indian media than we have from the UK Government.
“It’s good news that the Government now says it will take the time to get this deal right. Boris Johnson’s glib catchphrase ‘done by Diwali’ was a classic example of ‘policy by slogan.’ This approach is corrosive to trust and should be rightly consigned to the bin. The Government must now use its time wisely to get the best deal possible for the UK, and we hope that this report will serve as a useful starting point for scrutiny by our successor committee as negotiations continue.”