According to a leaked official document, UK trade negotiators should prioritize economic growth over the environment in trade deals.
The paper, written by officials from the Ministry of International Trade, states that environmental protection measures should not be treated as a red line if other countries do not want to include them in agreements.
It comes a month after it was revealed that the UK secretly made climate pledges to conclude a trade deal with the Australian government, which is hostile to climate change.
In the latest document, distributed to around 120 officials this week before it was leaked to Sky News, department heads say the “economic case” for dismantling trade barriers should prevail.
The UK is currently trying to negotiate a trade deal with the far-right Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro, whose policy to deforest the Amazon has sparked international outcry.
Activists have suggested that the UK should use trade deals as leverage to encourage the Brazilian government to end its deforestation policies.
But the leaked document says: “[The government] should not refuse to liberalize environmentally relevant products if there is an economic argument in favor of liberalization or if the interests of the partners are so strong that this would not jeopardize the broader agreement.
“In these cases, we should further liberalize and address the risk of carbon leakage (in general, as well as any minor additional risk from the free zone), using the FTA levers described in this notice and those described elsewhere.”
It adds: “HMG should not pursue a conditional liberalization approach. This is due to the very high level of negotiation problems (less precedent and proven difficulties in speaking to partners on related issues) and WTO compliance issues / creation of double standards with trading partners. “
The macroeconomic case for free trade agreements is relatively weak, with government estimates putting the benefits of even the largest deal with the US at less than 0.16 percent of GDP over 20 years.
But the government has effectively accepted that this deal will not go through under President Joe Biden and is instead focusing on other deals with even smaller economic benefits.
Nevertheless, the ministers are trying desperately politically to be able to show concrete successes by leaving the EU, with other advantages that have so far only been few and far between.
The Department of International Trade has downplayed the importance of the leaked document, but trade experts say the approach outlined in it is clearly already being followed by officials.
Opposition parties also criticized the approach.
“It’s really shocking to see a document running around in the government where they essentially say, ‘Mind climate change, no matter the environment, Bolsonaro is a tough guy if you want a trade deal with Brazil, and he wants to sell us things from a rainforest, we probably shouldn’t get in each other’s way because otherwise we won’t get a trade deal ‘- really? ”Labor international shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry told Sky News.
A spokesman for the Ministry of International Trade said: “This is not a government policy and it is not being taken into account by ministers.”