Government fails to rule out making trade deals with countries destroying rainforests

The international trade secretary has failed to rule out making trade deals with countries that destroy their rainforests.

As concerns grow that the government is prioritising economic growth over climate protection, Labour called on Anne-Marie Trevelyan to make the commitment in the Commons.

She said economic growth and tackling climate challenges go “hand in hand”, but did not give a yes or no answer.

Shadow trade minister Bill Esterson told the Commons that a leaked document, revealed by Sky News last week, “suggests economic growth is a higher priority to this government than climate protection in trade negotiations”.

He added: “She can now confirm the government’s priority once and for all by making a definitive statement about whether the government and her department will rule out trade deals with countries like Brazil and Malaysia as long as they continue to destroy their rainforests.

“Will she make that commitment today?”

Ms Trevelyan replied: “Economic growth and the UK’s world-leading commitment to the climate challenges that the planet faces are not mutually exclusive, they go hand in hand together.

“But the environment and climate change will continue to be a key priority for the UK.

“Our ambition and leadership in that, and indeed in how we help our UK businesses who are driving the green agenda and providing the clean technology of the future, will be a critical part of making sure that our trade deals are very, very good for those British producers.”

Orangutans' habitats are often destroyed to plant oil palms, with the majority in Malaysia and Indonesia

Orangutans’ habitats are often destroyed to plant oil palms, with the majority in Malaysia and Indonesia

The leaked document, drawn up by Department of International Trade officials, also says environmental safeguards should not be treated as a red line when other countries demand they are broken in trade agreements.

The UK has made dozens of trade agreements with countries since leaving the EU but it still has some major deals to make with nations such as the US.

Lots of industries and the public are concerned this could mean lower environmental and animal standards such as chlorinated chicken and GM food, which the US allows and the UK currently does not.

The government drew up a plan this week to get carbon emissions down to net zero by 2050 as the UK prepares to host the COP26 climate change summit but issues like this risk undermining the efforts.