UK must not do trade deals with rights abusers, foreign minister says

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain should not engage in free trade with countries that abuse human rights, but proposals that the country’s courts should decide whether genocide has been committed by trade partners is flawed, foreign minister Dominic Raab said.

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Last week, Raab said Britain would introduce new rules for its companies to try to prevent goods linked to China’s Xinjiang region entering their supply chains.

Some British lawmakers want to go further and are due to consider proposals passed in the upper house of parliament that would give courts the power to stop free-trade agreements with countries if they consider them to have committed genocide.

“The bar is being set incredibly high,” Raab told BBC television on Sunday. “I mean, frankly, we shouldn’t be engaged in free-trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights well below the level of genocide.”

He said the proposals in parliament were problematic because Britain’s High Court did not have the resources to investigate allegations of genocide.

“I think there’s a second issue, which is really in relation to what we now know about what’s going on in Xinjiang, the question is whether, in relation to any country that engaged in those human rights abuses, you engage in free-trade negotiations,” he said.

“We shouldn’t really be delegating the political question of who you engage in free-trade negotiations with to the courts,” Raab said. “That’s something MPs (members of parliament) should hold government to account about and we absolutely embrace that.”

Addressing parliament last week, Raab said there was evidence of forced labour among Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang after the United Nations estimated at least 1 million members of the minority among others were held in internment camps.

China denies the accusation. A foreign ministry spokesman denounced the accusations of abuse in Xinjiang as Western lies.

Britain is hoping to strike its own trade agreements with countries around the world following the expiry of a post-Brexit transition period for leaving the European Union.

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