Why the UK needs to drop corporate courts from the Pacific trade deal

Why the UK needs to drop corporate courts from the Pacific trade deal

By: Jean Blaylock
Date: 3 March 2023
Campaigns: Trade

The UK might be close to joining the Pacific trade deal. That’s bad news for the climate, for food standards and for global inequality.

The Pacific trade deal was agreed in 2018 between eleven countries around the Pacific rim.* The UK has been trying to join it for the last few years in a highly secretive process. This week there are news stories that this process could be nearing the finish line.

What has been less talked about is that the Pacific trade deal includes the notorious corporate court mechanism. These are secret tribunals written into trade deals which enable corporations to sue governments outside of the national legal system for billions. They’re formally known as ISDS. Fossil fuel companies have been using them to challenge climate action.

Sneaking in by the backdoor

Right now, the UK government is recognising the dangers that corporate courts pose to climate policy in the Energy Charter Treaty. It hasn’t yet taken the action that we’ve all been telling it is needed, but it accepts there is a problem.

Yet at the same time the government might lock itself into the same danger all over again by accepting corporate courts in the Pacific trade deal!

Together we previously campaigned successfully to get corporate courts dropped from the Australia and Canada trade deals. We knew then that there was a risk of corporate courts being sneaked back in via the Pacific trade deal if it went ahead. But we also know the government responded to public pressure before, and we can win again.

West Cumbria coal mine

The risk is clear. In the UK, our current government has made the disastrous decision to green-light the West Cumbria coal mine. But campaigners have filed a legal challenge and the decision could still be reversed – including by a future government.

The investor behind the mine is an Australian company, EMR Capital. If the decision is later changed, then with corporate courts in the Pacific trade deal this is exactly the kind of case where EMR could sue. Or what could actually be worse for the planet, the company could use the threat of the case to try and influence a future government’s decision and let the mine go ahead.

Instead, the UK needs to exclude itself from the corporate court mechanism in the Pacific trade deal. This is entirely possible – New Zealand has already done it.

Threatening food standards

The deal is already threatening food standards. The Canadian government is pushing for the UK to drop its ban on hormone beef as a condition for joining the Pacific trade deal.

Growth hormones are used in industrial cattle farming in countries like Canada and Australia, but have been banned in the UK for more than 30 years on public health grounds. But the trade deal is being used as leverage to try and change that, and former agriculture minister, George Eustice, has warned of the risk that these standards will be sacrificed.

We need to raise the alarm about the risks from the Pacific trade deal.

Take action

Sign the petition to drop corporate courts from the Pacific trade deal >> 

The Pacific trade deal is also known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The countries in the trade deal are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Photo: Activists in Glasgow take part in a day of action on corporate courts and climate. Credit: Global Justice Now