New UK trade deal presents ‘profound’ environmental dangers

A new UK deal signed with an Indo-Pacific trade bloc encourages trade in products made with UK-banned pesticides and will “harm UK farmers”, a major green group has warned, as it calls for environmental standards to be placed on imports.

Trade secretary Kemi Badenoch and environment secretary Thérèse Coffey. Source - GettyImages, Tristan Fewings / Stringer

On 16 July, the business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch formally signed a treaty to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP), in a trade deal spanning 12 economies across Asia, the Pacific - and now Europe.

Membership of the group will loosen restrictions on trade between members and reduce tariffs on goods such as dairy and meat products, cars, gin, and whisky. The government has said that membership will “spark further investment in the UK” by CPTPP countries by guaranteeing protections for investors. 

However, green group WWF has slammed the deal stating that the environmental dangers it presents are "profound for both food production and for encouraging practices linked with deforestation". 

The NGO has warned that the deal encourages trade in products made with pesticides that are banned in the UK, with 119 such pesticides currently permitted across CPTPP members for agriculture use. 56% of these are deemed “highly hazardous” according to WWF, with chemicals used by major signatories such as Canada “known to kill bee populations and destroy aquatic ecosystems”. 

Joining the CPTPP will also see the UK encourage trade in deforestation-linked palm oil, according to the NGO, with the deal seeing the UK drop tariffs on the product for Malaysia.

Consequently, WWF said that the deal “rewards and incentivises environmentally destructive practices that put UK farmers, transitioning to more sustainable practices, at a disadvantage”.

According to the government's own projections, the CPTPP deal is only expected to grow GDP by 0.08% in the long term.

In a policy paper outlining the UK strategic approach regarding accession to the CPTPP, it states that while joining the trade group is “estimated to increase the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is estimated to reduce emissions intensity”. 

It continues: “GHG emissions are expected to increase by 0.025% over projected levels in 2035. This is less than the estimated percentage increase in GDP, which is 0.08%. Most of the estimated increase in emissions is attributable to the increased level of economic activity.”

Angela Francis, director of policy solutions at WWF-UK, said that in signing up to the CPTPP “without appropriate safeguards”, the government is “knowingly enabling trade in products that are wreaking havoc on our natural world for negligible economic gain”.  

The UK has signed the CPTPP deal, which is formal confirmation of agreement for the UK to join the group, but the government must still seek to ratify the agreement, which it said in a statement “will include parliamentary scrutiny”.

WWF has called on the government to “guarantee a substantive debate and vote on the final deal in Parliament”, as well as to develop a set of core environmental standards that imports must meet to access the UK market. 

“This would not only protect our precious natural world but would also level the playing field for our domestic farmers who are making strides towards greener farming practices,” said Francis. 

A Department for Business and Trade spokesperson said: “We were clear throughout talks that the UK’s accession must be right for UK companies, consumers, and farmers and that we will maintain the UK’s standards for food safety, environmental protection, and animal welfare standards. 

“We are committed to tackling issues such as illegal deforestation within UK supply chains. The CPTPP environment chapter will help strengthen cooperation to address deforestation and support biodiversity conservation. We have also published a joint statement with Malaysia setting out our shared commitment to work together to promote sustainable production of commodities and conserve forests.”

This article was updated with a statement from the Department for Trade