Welsh Government should have trade deal negotiation seat, but no veto

(Title Image: via medium.com)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes that the UK is currently due to leave the EU on 31 January 2020 and informal trade negotiations between the UK and US have begun, reportedly including references to the marketisation of patents/NHS drug pricing.
  • Notes that international treaties are outside the scope of powers of the Senedd and Section 82 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 allows Welsh Ministers to be directed by the UK to take actions to give effect to international obligations.
  • Believes Wales’s future would be best served by continued EU membership (subject to a second referendum); the Welsh NHS should not be forced by the UK Government to open up its market for greater private provision, or have increased drug costs imposed upon it, as a result of future trade deals; the health care system in the US has failed to properly regulate opioids, contributing to over 70,000 deaths in the US in 2018; the UK Government shouldn’t be able to direct Welsh Ministers to take actions in devolved fields which have the potential to be detrimental to Welsh public services.
  • Calls for the devolved parliaments of the UK to be given a veto over trade matters which affect devolved fields; Welsh MPs to support the NHS Protection Bill due to be introduced at Westminster in the new term and Section 82 of the Government of Wales Act 2006 to be repealed.

Cherry-picking vs scaremongering

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) told the chamber there was clear evidence the US is seeking to smooth over NHS access in a post-Brexit trade deal – not necessarily running services, but for drug sales, “cherry-picking the most lucrative parts of the market”.

Deregulation of medicines in the NHS could see costs rise to “obscene” US-style levels even for basic medicines like paracetamol, so it was important for the devolved legislatures to be able to have a veto on future trade deals to protect the NHS and to block any attempt by the UK Government to force any privatisation agenda on Wales.

Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) took the complete opposite view. This was Remainer denial, yet again. We could trust what Boris Johnson says as it was clear in the Tory manifesto says the NHS, drugs and services wouldn’t be on the table. Anything else was using fear tactics to prey on the sick and vulnerable and was ironic considering private involvement in the NHS expanded further under Labour than the Conservatives.

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) accepted that while current prescribing policy in the UK was less than perfect, the deregulation of opioids in the US has caused untold damage and those sort of practices should never be allowed to happen here. Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) added that drug patents had been used in the US to push up the price of generic drugs.

Personal health data “a potential goldmine” for US drug firms

Chair of the External Affairs Committee, David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon), agreed with some aspects of the motion, but believed instead of a veto and the end of the process, the Welsh Government should instead play an active role in negotiating trade deals from the start. We didn’t have the constitutional guarantees to enact a veto policy for sub-national legislatures here.

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) though the concerns were genuine but misconceived; the NHS wouldn’t be attractive to any private operator as it doesn’t bring in any revenues. Also, the medicines market in the US was heavily influenced by insurance companies which would pay drugs companies whatever they ask for as there are no cost controls.

Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said that clinical commissioning in England has resulted in over £2billion worth of private healthcare contracts with Virgin, cherry-picked for the most profitable parts such as dementia care, immunisation and GP services. Personal health data was also “a potential goldmine” for US pharmaceutical firms.

Welsh NHS “not for sale”, but….

Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), said categorically that the NHS in Wales would remain publicly run and wasn’t for sale, but while Plaid Cymru had correctly identified the challenges, they didn’t identify the solutions.

Belgium was the only example where sub-national legislatures have a veto on trade deals, but health wasn’t devolved to Flanders and Wallonia – so we had to be careful when looking at international precedents. What the Welsh Government would like, as David Rees hinted, was a direct role in negotiations, particularly concerning devolved responsibilities.

Vote

An amended version of the motion which left it mostly unchanged, but reflected the Welsh Government’s preference for having a seat at the table in negotiations, was approved by 26 votes to 11 with abstentions.

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