The UK’s planned trade deal with India will hurt the climate, the environment and the poor and must be rethought from scratch, say campaigners in both countries.
The negotiations – aiming for an agreement by October – are also “anti-democratic” because civil society groups and trade unions are largely shut out, a hard-hitting statement says.
The “strategic approach” set out “prioritises increased trade at any cost”, while neglecting “local businesses, secure livelihoods and access to public services”, it alleges.
“We are particularly concerned these negative impacts will be disproportionately borne by women and other already marginalised groups,” reads the statement, signed by 10 organisations.
It is the strongest challenge yet to the government’s post-Brexit agenda to strike as many free trade agreements (FTAs) as possible, as a prize for leaving the EU.
Boris Johnson has set his successor a deadline of securing the bulk of the India deal by the Hindu Diwali festival in late October, having made progress on his trip to the country in April.
After those talks, he was accused of breaking a pledge to do everything possible to ensure “Putin fails” in Ukraine, admitting he did not try to persuade India to drop its neutral stance towards Russia.
In contrast to the puny economic gains from the deals with Australia and New Zealand, trade experts believe there will be a benefit from an agreement with the sub-continent’s economic powerhouse.
The statement, signed by the Trade Justice Movement and Traidcraft Exchange among others, agrees that “trade has the potential to bring benefits to both countries”.
“Its current approach to trade fails to properly align with fundamental human and labour rights, and our countries’ shared commitment to addressing the climate crisis,” it reads.
In both countries, civil society groups have been given “very limited access to information, or opportunity to input into negotiations, particularly in comparison to business groups”.
“There is no parliamentary ratification process in India and, in the UK, parliamentarians are denied a guaranteed and meaningful vote,” the statement adds.
But a spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said: “We carry out considerable consultation on new trade deals and will always share as much information as we can.
“We will only agree a trade deal with India which benefits the UK and upholds our high environmental standards.”
A 14-week consultation was carried out with organisations across the UK to help develop priorities, the department said.
The criticism comes after a study warned the UK’s high animal welfare standards are in “clear and present danger” from such deals without tougher government rules.