Global & Green: The future of trade and the environment

Posted on 22 Oct 2018 by Maddy White

Depending on how you look at it, Brexit is a huge obstacle and opportunity for businesses and trade. No one knows how it will play out. We also realise that globally we need to become a greener society. Can the two be entwined?

Tidal Power - Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon is the pathfinder project for UK and international tidal lagoons at full-scale – shown here is an artist’s impression of the lagoon wall
A previous artist’s impression of the lagoon wall.

Earlier this year the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project was thrown out by the government. Yes, it was expensive. But, what it could’ve enabled future trade and the energy sector couldn’t be quantified.

The project could’ve offered sustainable and locally-produced electricity, not to mention the creation of more than 2,000 permanent manufacturing and construction jobs.

Tidal technology is one that is largely up for grabs. By this I mean, it was set to be the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant and could have offered the UK a rare opportunity to become the experts in this renewable energy. Read more about the lagoon here.

It was a punt, one the government should’ve gone for. But, it proves that trade, policy and the environment are closely tethered.

Global & Green 

TM was present at the ‘Global & Green’ event last week, which saw MP and Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade & Shadow Minister for International Climate Change, Barry Gardiner, discuss how UK trade policy will impact our environment.

British product standards was discussed, and more specifically that products made in the UK are trusted across the world.

Manufacturing growth slowed over the three months, but export orders remained well above average - image courtesy of Depsoitphotos.
Products made in the UK are trusted across the world – image courtesy of Depsoitphotos.

Gardiner said: “Countries like China and India buy British products because they trust them – if we lower regulation standards [post-Brexit] it will not boost trade, trust will be lost.”  

Gardiner means that when we leave the EU, if the UK aligns its product standards to those we wish to trade with e.g. the US, the quality of UK goods could suffer.

He uses the example of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ‘Food Defect Action Levels’, this under US legislation establishes the maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use and consumption.

Ground cinnamon, can have under this rule, an average of 400 or more insect fragments per 50 grams; the list of products and their defect allowance is lengthy. In contrast, the EU policy on this is zero tolerance.

Another question that cropped up during the event was, “Do we need trade agreements?” and “What is the point in signing agreements with countries if there is no real trade strategy?”

The consensus was that Britain needs a trade strategy and that no, there is no point making trade agreements without one. It is of course, hard to evaluate as no one will know Britain’s stance within trading post-Brexit.

Theresa May has proposed “frictionless” trade between Britain and the EU in the government’s Brexit white paper released in July, but nothing is yet to be agreed. Despite it now being less than five months before the UK departs the European Union.

Trade, the environment and policy

From goods’ standards to energy and carbon emissions, policy that impacts trade and the environment is apparent.

In the automotive industry, EVs, AVs and cutting carbon emissions engulfs discussions. Britain has a leading automotive sector, with many actively developing electrically powered vehicles to align with the government’s carbon emissions policy.

This requires diesel engines to be eliminated in the next few decades. Whether this is a fair and realistic prospect for the automotive industry is of course, an entirely different question.

Dyson is now focusing on entering the electric vehicle space - image courtesy of Dyson.
Even electrical appliance manufacturer, Dyson is now focusing on entering the EV space – image courtesy of Dyson.

It became clear from the discussions that the environment, trade and policy are closely aligned in some instances, but whether the government looks at a topic, say electric vehicles, and its impact on all three of the above is up for dispute.

For example, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon had the backing from an environmental and trade perspective, but not political policy support. Why?

It is essential that trade needs to be addressed post-Brexit with a plan put into action, rather than reports and proposals. This then needs to be aligned with environmental strategy, to form a cohesive plan that can be implemented as soon as possible.

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