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Exports

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

Our ambition is to double exports to £1 trillion by 2020. This ambition was reflected in the 2012 autumn statement, when UK Trade & Investment was allocated an extra £140 million to enable it to double the number of small and medium-sized enterprises supported from 25,000 to 50,000 by 2015.

The Government have made an excellent start, with exports to Brazil up by half and to India by more than half and those to China almost doubled, yet still only one in five SMEs exports. Were we to get that up to one in four, we could wipe out our trade deficit, so what efforts are the Government making to engage with the four out of five SMEs which currently do not export but whose products and services would be attractive to overseas markets?

My hon. Friend analyses the problem correctly: we have to make a major effort in big emerging markets, which we have neglected in the past. We have identified 20. I have been to the majority of them, leading trade missions, as have my colleagues. With reference to raising awareness, for example, in May, a few weeks ago, we had 80 events across the country identifying 3,600 businesses with interests in emerging markets, and there is a greatly increased tempo of activity in the field through the establishment of chambers.

What has the Secretary of State learnt from the experience in Germany, where the state-backed investment bank makes export finance one of its priorities and one of its objectives? Does he think there are lessons there for this country that could improve access to export finance to address the problem that he has just set out?

The Germans do indeed have a very good system of export support and trade finance. They do many of these things well. Partly in response to that, in the earlier period of this Government I introduced a new range of short-term trade finance products that we had not had before. They are now picking up a substantial amount of interest, and in the Budget the Chancellor announced £1.5 billion for medium-term—three to five-year—export credit guarantees, which are now being implemented.

I am going to Luxembourg tonight. I hope that by the end of tomorrow we will have to agreed to launch those very important negotiations. This is potentially the biggest trade deal that has been accomplished for many years, and it will have major implications—positive implications—for British exporters, particularly in sectors such as cars.

The Secretary of State’s answer to the very pertinent question posed by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) smacked of complacency. His response did not mention the fact that figures published last week showed that the value of exports has fallen by 1.3%. The CBI also said last week that the trade figures were “unsatisfactory”, with

“still a long way to go. The Government needs to do more to help raise exports to the fast-growing economies.”

Does the Minister agree with the CBI’s assessment? Is he satisfied with the Government’s performance in boosting trade so far or does he think he needs to raise his game?

The game has been raised very considerably over the past three years but the hon. Gentleman is right. The figures on exports are not great and the reason is simple: half our exports go the European Union, where output is declining. It has a major economic crisis. Exports are growing rapidly to emerging markets. My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) cited the figures and I will repeat them: 28% growth in the past year to Russia, 16% to Brazil and 16% to China. That does not suggest that we are not trying.