MPs to probe relationship between environment and trade

The House of Commons’ International Trade Committee has launched an inquiry into the relationship between trade and the environment.

The inquiry will explore how the government should address environmental issues in its trade and investment policy – including at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and in any future trade agreements such as with the European Union.

The committee hopes to identify how trade policy can support positive environmental incomes – such as hitting the targets of the Paris Agreement – and how trade’s negative environmental impacts can be mitigated.

Commenting on the inquiry, the committee’s chair Angus Brendan MacNeil MP said: ‘Combating climate change has never been a more imperative policy goal in the national psyche, demonstrated by the Extinction Rebellion protests, which brought many of the UK’s cities to a standstill, and the declaration of a ‘climate emergency’ by the House of Commons in May.

‘Increased levels of international trade can lead to negative environmental outcomes due to the requirements of producing and transporting goods – which can be energy and resource-intensive. Counter to this, however, is the argument that increased trade can boost a country’s economic growth and access to new technologies – and therefore its ability to manage environmental challenges.

‘How the government might be able to use trade policy as a tool in the battle against climate change has not been fully explored by policy makers.

‘My Committee’s inquiry will look at this issue in-depth, with a view to coming up with practical, implementable policy suggestions to ensure that the UK takes advantage of the potential for trade policy to support positive environmental outcomes.’

One topic the International Trade Committee hopes to look at is how effectively existing free trade agreements address environmental issues, and how the UK’s future trade agreements may address them in the future.

In its 2017 Trade White Paper, the government committed to ‘the maintenance of high standards of environmental protection in trade agreements’.

However, the government’s draft Environment Bill – which sets out the government’s plans to protect the UK’s environment after the country has left the EU – has been criticised for ‘severely downgrading’ the UK’s environmental protections post-Brexit.

The committee has invited the public to submit ideas as to how the government should look to address environmental issues, such as climate change, as part of its trade policy post-Brexit.

Other questions it has asked include how imposing or reducing tariffs on goods could help the UK pursue its environmental aims, and how best to create coherence between trade and environmental policy across Whitehall.

The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is at the start of October this year.

Photo Credit – UK Parliament