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Volume 574: debated on Thursday 23 January 2014

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, released on 9 January, show that UK exports totalled more than £494 billion in 2012, the highest level on record. Exports in the first 11 months of 2013 were in excess of £40 billion a month.

I am grateful for that answer. It has been very encouraging to hear a number of businesses in my constituency, including the Hainsworth mill in Stanningley, reporting increased exports in recent months. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the performance of UK exports in some of the newer growth markets?

In spite of tough trading conditions, British exports of goods have increased under this Government—to China by 98%, India by 56%, Russia by 110% and Brazil by 45%.

The Minister will be aware of the importance of Airbus to UK exports. Is he as concerned as I am about the billions of pounds of subsidy to Boeing that has been announced by Washington state and sanctioned by the US Government?

These are issues I discuss with Airbus from time to time. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of action under the World Trade Organisation on two cases, one involving subsidies to Boeing and the other involving alleged subsidies to Airbus. I hope that some of those issues can be resolved in discussions on the transatlantic trade partnership.

In Germany, the Mittelstand leads the way in exports. What steps are the Government taking to target our mid-sized businesses, particularly for emerging markets?

I recognise the enormous amount of work my hon. Friend did when he served in the Department before me. We have a target of assisting some 1,500 mid- size businesses by 2015. My noble Friend Lord Livingston yesterday announced a major enhancement of the programme that will see an expanded regional network of advisers in UK Trade & Investment, with some 28 advisers in place across all nine English regions, specifically targeted to drive up the number of mid-sized businesses that might be deciding to export for the first time or to increase their performance.

Given the recent comments from Nissan and other manufacturers about the importance of Britain’s staying in the EU, does the Minister agree that it is vital that Britain stay in the European Union and that the current uncertainty about Britain’s future membership that we see in some quarters is damaging to the future of British job prospects?

What is important for car manufacturers from overseas, such as Nissan, and for all foreign investors in Britain is that the single market is strengthened and available to them. One of the purposes of our reform programme in Europe is to ensure that the member states that do not wish to become enmeshed in the eurozone can still enjoy the full protection and opportunities of the single market.

May I warmly congratulate UK Trade & Investment on its work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs promoting the food and drink sector and also the GREAT Britain campaign, which is, I think, genuinely great? Will my right hon. Friend set aside a small promotional budget to support our presence at international food fairs? We are outgunned by other countries, and a pavilion that showed off the best of British produce would bring dividends.

I shall certainly see what more we can do in that regard. I know that food and drink exports will be one of the themes of our commitment to Expo in Milan later this year and I shall be discussing our pavilion in Milan this evening and tomorrow.

I detect a real note of complacency in the Minister’s remarks. Let us not crack open the imported champagne just yet. The Secretary of State’s trade and investment White Paper of 2011 stated:

“The UK now needs to rebalance its economy…toward increased exports and investment.”

Yet the value of exports fell in the last quarter and net trade acted as a drag on GDP growth for much of 2013. Given that the trade gap remains persistently high and is growing, manufacturing as a share of our economy has fallen under this Government, and investment has continued to flatline, will the Minister now concede that an export-led recovery has not materialised?

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should talk down British exporting and British manufacturing at precisely the time we see a renaissance not only in our automotive industry but in our aerospace and other industries. Of course trading conditions are tough, not least with problems in the eurozone and elsewhere, but exports are up and we continue to help drive increased export performance through supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and mid-sized businesses.