UK claims green credentials to woo Joe Biden but is under fire over plastic waste trade policies

Wed 13 Jan 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

waste recycling

The UK hopes to convince US President-elect Joe Biden to accelerate negotiations for a trade deal by inserting provisions for environmental standards into the proposed deal. 

The government commenced talks with the US under outgoing President Trump earlier this year but is unlikely to clinch a deal before the handover between administrations finishes next week.

The UK believes it will need to appeal to Biden’s push for a green agenda at home to reignite the talks after his inauguration on 20 January.

A source from the Department for International Trade told City AM: “It’s no secret that we need to tick key political boxes to get a deal over the line with Biden” and that “the environment and climate change definitely will tick those boxes”. 

June deadline

The UK still hopes to reach a deal with the US by June when the US’ Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority – a temporary legislative vehicle set up to prevent Senators from amending trade deals before ratification – expires.

However, Biden’s appointed US Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, will not be confirmed for at least a couple of months by the US Senate. UK trade ministers have not yet had any contact with Tai.

Waste exports under fire

The move to appeal to Biden’s green aspirations could fall flat if the UK remains under fire for some of its current trade policies.

The UK has been accused of using its newfound independence to continue exporting waste to developing countries, according to the Guardian

While the EU has banned shipments of unsorted plastic waste to non-OECD member states since 1 January this year, the newly independent UK has not followed suit.  

The UK’s policy is to allow waste exports to continue where there is “prior informed consent” from the importer.

US and UK lead in wastefulness

Britain is second only to the US in its production of plastic waste and it exports about two-thirds of it.

There is concern about how the waste is treated in the importing countries, with reports that some ends up as landfill, is burned or is simply dumped.

Time wasted

Pressure group the Basel Action Network has criticised the UK for its lack of new regulation having had almost two years to replicate the EU plastic waste export ban in UK law.

BAN’s director, Jim Puckett, told Recycling International: “We had assumed the UK would at least follow the EU and so it is a shock to find out now that instead they chose to have a far weaker control procedure which can still permit exports of contaminated and difficult to recycle plastics to developing countries all over the world.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the government had “pledged to ban the export of all plastic waste to non-OECD countries”, but did not give a timetable for action.