UK foreign minister wants trade deals with rights violators

UK foreign minister wants trade deals with rights violators, despite outrage over 'China commerce plans'
3 min read
17 March, 2021
Avoiding trade agreements with human rights violators would prevent the UK from tapping into 'growth markets', Raab said.
Raab's comments were leaked to the press[Getty]
The UK will seek trade deals with countries around the world regardless of their human rights records, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a leaked conversation.

Restricting trade agreements to nations that meet European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) standards would prevent the United Kingdom from tapping into "growth markets of the future", Raab said.

The foreign minister's comments were recorded during a meeting with Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office staff and later shared with the Huffington Post.

Raab stated he hoped establishing and maintaining trade links with such countries would act as a "positive influence" on their human rights records.

"We don't junk whole relationships because we've got issues – we have a conversation because we want to change the behaviour," he was quoted as saying.

"I can think of behaviour that would cross the line and render a country beyond the pale," Raab reportedly said. "But fundamentally I'm a big believer in engaging to try and exert positive influence even if it's only a moderating influence, and I hope that calibrated approach gives you a sense that it's not just words – we back it up with action."

The foreign secretary's comments come as the UK government faces controversy over plans to expand trade links with China despite Beijing's repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.

Government faces backlash over China trade plans

An official foreign policy review, published by The Times on Monday, advocates "deeper trade links and more Chinese investment in the UK".

The government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is reportedly facing a major Conservative rebellion over the matter, with MPs threatening to defy the party whip unless an amendment to prevent trade deals with countries committing atrocities is introduced.

The so-called genocide amendment proposes a parliamentary committee that would examine claims of abuses and place pressure on the government to review trading relationships.
Read more: China breaching all acts in UN genocide convention, report says

The amendment does not specifically mention China but Conservative MPs have been increasingly vocal on the treatment of the Uighurs.

At least a million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities are held in detention camps in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. Rights groups and activists allege numerous rights abuses including forced labour, forced sterilisation, rape and torture.

Outside groups have also lobbied the government and MPs to support the genocide amendment. They include Holocaust survivors Dorit Oliver Wolff and Ruth Barnett, whose petition urging support of the amendment has racked up more than 50,000 signatures.

The Trade Bill will return to the House of Commons on March 22.

Prime Minister Johnson condemned this week the "mass detention" of Uighurs but said the UK should avoid a "new cold war" with China. 

The UK should "not sequester our economy entirely from China", he said.

London can "work with China where that is consistent with our values and interests", Johnson added.

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