Trade Justice Manifesto 2019

Trade rules reach into every aspect of everyday life: from the food we eat to the way the NHS is run. A General Election will set the priorities for the next five years for this critical aspect of economic policy. The Trade Justice Movement will be looking at how party manifestos across the political spectrum approach trade rules so that they help to improve people’s lives in the UK and in partner countries. Trade deals must support action to tackle the climate and environmental crises, ensure decent work and healthcare for all, protect our rights online and support our commitments to help end poverty in developing countries.

The Trade Justice Movement represents sixty civil society organisations, including trade unions, faith groups and NGOs, calling for trade which works for people and planet. The following sets out our vision for a just trade policy ahead of the 2019 General Election.

1. Make trade democratic

Given the broad scope of trade policy and its implications for key public policy goals, trade negotiations must no longer be conducted in secret without democratic accountability:

  • The public must be consulted at key stages in the development of the deal, including in the initial scoping phase and in the setting of the mandate. Negotiating texts must also be made public.
  • The Government should introduce new legislation to give Parliament the ability to amend deals, a vote on the mandate of trade negotiations and on the final deal and review and withdraw from deals if they are found to be having a negative impact.
  • There should be full, independent impact assessments which take into account social and environmental factors.
  • There should be a clear remit for the devolved administrations.

2. Protect the NHS and all public services

Public services, including the NHS, are a key way in which governments meet their commitments in areas such as healthcare, education and the provision of water and energy. Governments must retain their ability to change or adjust policies in these areas. This means that:

  • Public services, including the NHS, should be excluded from trade agreements.
  • Provisions which ‘lock in’ privatisation, such as standstill clauses, ratchet clauses and ‘negative listing’, must be dropped.
  • Provisions which can drive increased liberalisation, such as Most Favoured Nation provisions, must also be excluded from commitments on services.
  • Trade deals must not make medicines more expensive, which means market access and Intellectual Property provisions in trade deals must be carefully designed and restrictions on public purchasing policies must be avoided.

3. Prioritise climate justice

Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue facing governments today. Trade deals can make it hard for governments to introduce policies to combat climate change, by blocking regulations and giving firms the ability to challenge green policies. Our planet must come before trade, this means that:

  • The corporate court system (ISDS) must be removed from trade deals.
  • Regulatory cooperation provisions, which can hold back progress towards Net Zero and put downwards-pressure on standards, must be excluded.
  • Intellectual property rules must not block the dissemination of green technologies.
  • Rules on agricultural goods must promote sustainable farming methods.
  • The UK must commit to upholding existing EU environmental legislation.

3. Safeguard food and health standards

  • The UK currently enjoys high food and health standards through EU membership.
  • Trade deals must not be allowed to put downwards pressure on these standards, through regulatory cooperation, in negotiations or through corporate courts.

4. Protect workers’ rights

  • Existing trade deals contain no binding or enforceable provisions to ensure they do not have negative consequences for labour and social rights.
  • This can lead to downward pressure on UK labour rights.
  • Trade deals should be designed to increase good quality jobs and real wages, and to uphold and promote labour rights.

5. End the corporate courts system

  • Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in trade deals allow multinational companies to sue governments for introducing policies that corporations believe could harm their profits.
  • ISDS has historically been used to challenge important environmental, health and labour legislation, and it has no place in UK trade policy.

6. Safeguard digital regulation

  • Digital chapters in trade deals could weaken existing data protection laws and limit the Government’s ability to regulate technology firms and ensure fair distribution of digital wealth.
  • It is important that the Government is able to make important policy decisions about the privacy, safety and accountability of digital systems, especially when the challenges associated with e-commerce, artificial intelligence and algorithms are only just beginning to be understood.

7. Promote sustainable development and gender rights

  • Trade agreements can have a significant and potentially severe impact on people living in the Global South and on particular communities, including women and minority groups.
  • Trade policy must be designed in line with the UK’s international commitments, including to sustainable development as set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Trade deals must prioritise sustainable development in the Global South and the protection of rights over the interests of big business.