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Trade talks with Israel raise concerns over human rights issues, says Ivan McKee

Trade minister Ivan McKee voiced concerns over the negotiations (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)
Trade minister Ivan McKee voiced concerns over the negotiations (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

The UK’s approach towards free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with Israel raises concerns over human rights issues, according to Scotland’s trade minister.

Ivan McKee outlined the Scottish Government’s stance on a new agreement in a letter to Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s minister for trade policy, on Monday.

Mr McKee said that while ministers at Holyrood welcome the opportunity for economic growth, it is “disappointing” that the UK has not carried out an assessment on the human rights impact ahead of the negotiation launch.

He said there are specific concerns about the human rights record and ongoing conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and suggested no aspects of an agreement would mitigate the negative effects of Brexit.

Mr McKee wrote: “The scoping analysis that you have now published does not give any detail on the likely economic impact of this deal on Scotland. However, any benefits from increased trade will not make up for the loss in trade as a result of Brexit.

“Given that your own modelling shows the recent deals with Australia and New Zealand are likely to have a detrimental impact on the agriculture and semi-processed food sectors, it is important to see the impact of all proposed FTAs on Scotland and our economy in advance of negotiations.”

The SNP MSP added: “We have specific concerns in relation to the human rights record and ongoing conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

“In particular, we are concerned about reported labour rights violations of Palestinian and migrant workers under Israeli working practices.”

Mr McKee said it is “vital” that the UK ensures that “goods and services sourced from illegal settlements in the OPTs are excluded from this agreement in a way that can be reliably enforced”.

He also said any expansion of trade in architectural and construction services in Israel should not lead to a “violation of international law” through involvement in “the punitive demolition and destruction of Palestinian public and private property”.

“It is disappointing that you have not undertaken a human rights impact assessment in advance of negotiations,” he wrote, urging officials to “fully consider these important issues and use the trade negotiations to progress human rights objectives”.

Talks on expanding the current deal between the UK and Israel to include services exports started last week.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK has a strong trade relationship with Israel worth £5 billion annually. A new innovation-focused agreement will maximise the export opportunities for businesses from across the UK into Israel’s thriving services sector, which has grown by almost 50% in the last decade alone.

“The UK will continue to show global leadership in encouraging all states to uphold international human rights obligations. As good friends, we will continue to have frank and honest discussions with the government of Israel on a range of issues.”