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UK pledges to assess environmental impact of trade deals

trade deals

The Government’s response confirms that such assessments will be undertaken going forward, calling environmental sustainability a ‘key metric’

The UK government today pledged to assess environmental impact of future post-Brexit trade deals in the official response to a report published by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) last autumn. The EAC’s initial report outlined the findings of its inquiry into the ways in which the UK impacts biodiversity globally, through multinational supply chains and international trade agreements.

Taking into account the UK’s position as a net importer, with WWF claiming that 46% of the UK’s total annual carbon footprint – and the majority of its negative impact on biodiversity is generated overseas – the EAC’s report warned that the UK Government risks missing its long-term environmental targets due to a lack of strong, joined-up policy internationally. These include the 2050 net-zero target and the UK’s commitment to the UN’s 30 by 30 agenda, which requires supporting nations to safeguard at least 30% of marine and terrestrial habitats by the end of the decade.

Specifically, one of the report’s key recommendations was for ministers to assess the environmental impacts of all future FTAs and use the findings as a key deciding factor on whether to sign agreements, and what green requirements to implement if they are signed.

The Government’s response confirms that such assessments will be undertaken going forward, calling environmental sustainability a ‘key metric’.

Scoping and impact assessments for new FTAs post-Brexit include both qualitative and quantitative assessments of the impacts on several aspects of the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, air and water quality and biodiversity, the response states.

It states: The Secretary of State for International Trade will work closely with other government departments to assess the environmental impacts of new FTAs and to improve their coverage and approach. This includes developing methodological improvements and exploring further qualitative assessments, exploiting new data and evidence.

EAC chair Philip Dunne MP said of the response: This reflects an important turning point in how seriously the Government takes the UK’s responsibility for restoring global biodiversity.

He said: Embedding nature protection in trade agreements not only safeguards biodiversity, but it sends a striking message to trading partners that this must be prioritised.

The Government’s response to the EAC report also confirms that several other recommendations are being taken on board.

Among them is the development of a new ‘clear and accessible definition of sustainability’ within the Government’s own buying standards. The EAC’s report was published in September 2021 and, in October, the Government launched a review of its sustainable procurement framework with the support of the Global Resource Initiative. The response from the Government states that it will strengthen rules on certain things, including deforestation in food and furniture supply chains, by mid-2022.

However, not all recommendations are taken on board. The EAC heard arguments from many organisations for the strengthening of the Environment Bill’s new ‘comply or explain’ mandate, requiring large UK-based businesses procuring forest-risk commodities to prove their supply chains are free from illegal deforestation. The mandate has been criticised for permitting deforestation deemed legal in nations with lax laws, such as Brazil, and for not applying to the financial sector.

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