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Trade Deficit

Volume 604: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2016

8. What fiscal steps he is taking to reduce the trade deficit in order to reduce the reliance of the economy on domestic spending. (903106)

The Government have taken a range of steps to reduce the trade deficit. Since 2010, UK Trade & Investment has more than doubled the number of businesses supported, and UK Export Finance has provided more than £15 billion of support. Earlier this month, I saw some of the results of that support when I met entrepreneurs at ESpark’s new hatchery in Edinburgh. Many start-ups and exporters in Scotland greatly appreciate UKTI’s assistance. I welcome the Government’s announcement this morning of an improved UKTI approach to exporters across the whole of the UK.

It is incredible for the Minister to continue with a policy that has failed and that resulted last year in a horrendous £123 billion deficit in the trade of goods. We all want to see reduced dependence on consumer debt, but is it not time for him to admit that the UK Government’s policy has failed? I gently suggest revision.

The trade deficit is actually improving as a share of GDP, and it is projected to continue to do so in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecast. What would be an absolute disaster is the Scottish National party’s policy of full fiscal independence, which would cost Scotland £10 billion a year, added to which the collapse in the oil price would, according to the OBR, result in revenues this year being down by a staggering 94%. That would be a disaster for Scotland.

I welcome the Chancellor’s earlier comments about export initiatives to India. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the excellent work that is being done by businesses in the north-west and the northern powerhouse to boost exports?

I join my hon. Friend in very much welcoming that, particularly with reference to exports to China and India, which have been a great success. UKTI is doing what it can to support that, with a doubling of funds in China over the spending review period and providing tailored support for first-time exporters, with an additional £20 million in 2015-16. It is supporting northern powerhouse trade missions on that specific basis, on the terms mentioned by my hon. Friend.

22. The British Chambers of Commerce is forecasting that the much heralded doubling of UK exports will take not another four years, as the Chancellor had promised, but another 18 years—it will happen in 2034. Does the Chancellor accept that this is clear evidence that his efforts to reduce the UK trade deficit are failing and will continue to fail? (903121)

As I mentioned earlier, the UK has a good future in terms of the trade deficit and improving statistics. UKTI will also be playing an important role here. On the announcements we made today on trade policy, one of the most important things we can do is adopt a whole-of-government approach to improving the approach we take to trade and boosting our exports.

My constituency contains a niche amusement machine manufacturer, Harry Levy Amusement Contractor Ltd, which supplies global export markets. What help and support can my right hon. Friend offer to exporters so that we can really achieve the new, cross-government approach to exports launched today by the Business Secretary and the Trade Minister Lord Maude?

I have been to my hon. Friend’s constituency quite a few times over the past year and a half, but I do not think I have had the particular pleasure of meeting the company he mentions. I am very happy to meet him and that company, or perhaps to meet Lord Maude, if that is more appropriate, to see what could be done to help exporters in South Thanet.

The concrete products industry used to have a surplus on the balance of payments but it now has a deficit of hundreds of millions of pounds. That is due to the imposition of the aggregates levy on products made in the UK but not on imported products, which has put thousands of jobs in jeopardy. Will the Minister consider imposing the same tax on goods produced abroad as is imposed on goods produced here in the UK?

I am happy to look in detail at the points the hon. Gentleman raises. My understanding is that there have been legal challenges to aspects of the aggregates levy and that has prevented us from addressing some of these issues, but I am happy to engage with him on an ongoing basis to see what could be done better.