A number of constituents contacted me about the trade debate in Parliament on 21st February raising concerns about standards in future trade agreements, the scrutiny of such agreements, and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms.
I will state at the outset that such concerns are unfounded.
Maintaining safety and public confidence in the food we eat is of the highest priority. Without exception, imports must meet all the relevant UK product rules and regulations. Any future trade agreements must work for UK farmers, businesses, and consumers, and uphold food safety, animal welfare standards, and environmental protection. In addition, when it comes to products imported to the UK - quality, safety and performance will continue to be paramount.
With regard to scrutiny of future trade agreements, the Government is committed to transparency and scrutiny of its trade agreements. The Government has committed to Parliament scrutinising our future trade arrangements. Parliament will be able to inform negotiations, be regularly updated, and will ultimately play its role in the ratification of any new Free Trade Agreement through the process set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.
With regard to ISDS mechanisms, this is not a straightforward subject and undoubtedly this has caused some confusion. The right of governments to regulate in the public interest is protected in investment chapters in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties. The UK has more than 90 bilateral investment treaties in place with other countries and there has never been a successful ISDS claim brought against the UK, nor has the threat of potential claims affected the Government's legislative programme.
ISDS does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services. In addition, the UK supports transparency in ISDS. The new United Nations Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration, to which the UK is a signatory, are specifically designed to address such concerns.
On the specific issue of public healthcare which some constituents have raised in connection with this, the Government is committed to protecting the NHS. The NHS is safeguarded by specific exemptions in all EU trade agreements and, as our country leaves the EU, the UK will continue to ensure that rigorous protections for the NHS are included in all trade agreements it is party to.
I thank all constituents who have raised this with me.