The policy commission on which I sit deals with the economy, business and trade. At our meeting in June we focussed on trade issues, just ahead of the two trade bills returning to parliament.
There was a clear difference of view between the TUC and War on Want who both gave evidence at the session. Both agreed that trade deals have gone far beyond matters of trade. All kind of standards and regulations are treated at “non-tariff barriers to trade” and so modern trade deals often deal in matters which are primarily issues of public health, environmental and safety standards as well as issues of government purchasing, qualifications, and patent protection.
Both opposed special courts for investors (investor state dispute settlement) and agreed that there was too little public scrutiny or accountability of trade agreements.
Rosa Crawford, giving evidence for the TUC, said that trade unions had three main aims:
- that exclude trade unions and civil society should be involved in future negotiations;
- that trade deals should provide binding protection for employment rights including enforcement and sanctions procedures;
- that public services should be excluded for future trade deals.
For War on Want, Jean Blaylock, argued that trade diplomacy was an extremely powerful means of changing international policies. Trade deals allowed deregulation and privatisation to slip by out of sight of the public interest and that there was a ratchet effect, once a market was “liberalised” there was no route back.
Her view was that we trade deals would be better restricted to trade questions and that trade should sit among a range of international agreements focussed on the specific questions eg sustainability and public health.
We also heard a technical presentation on trade remedies. The main take-away was that the UK does not make enough use of the protections available to resist unfair trade.
Barry Gardner, shadow trade secretary, gave an update from the front bench. He covered the amendments to the Trade Bill and Customs Bill many of which were concerned with greater scrutiny and accountability of trade deals.
In July the commission met to consider the responses to the consultation exercise on “The Future of Work”. A report on the commissions work had been circulated only the day before and some of us felt that there had not been enough time to read and digest the document. as this report will be submitted to annual conference, I felt we were not able to do our job properly. I asked for us to be given more time to submit written comments and this was agreed. However, we do not have a policy document as a result of the consultation, simply the annual report of the commission’s activity.
The meeting also has excellent feedback from the front bench. John McDonnell discussed the final report on finance from Graham Turner. His report proposes the creation of a Strategic Investment Board to oversee Labour’s £250 billion investment in economic infrastructure. It recommends changing the Bank of England’s mandate to include 3% target for raising productivity. John also spoke of his work on doubling the number of coops and recommended the Coop Party’s report Cooperatives Unleashed.
Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow business secretary, announced that her report on reforming corporate governance would be published before conference. She covered the growing anxiety among businesses of a hard Brexit. Major firms like Airbus, BMW and Unipart were engaged in risk planning but smaller firms had no capacity for risk assessment or defence against a no deal Brexit. her team were stepping p business liaison with round table meetings around the country including small firms and focussed on marginal seats.