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Trade Negotiators: Recruitment

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 8 September 2016

May I first say what a pleasure it is to see the hon. Lady in her place looking so healthy and radiant? It is especially a pleasure for her neighbouring MPs to see her.

My Department already has a strong and capable trade policy team, which has doubled since 23 June. In the next two years, we will be developing that team to build the world-class negotiating strengths needed to deliver the best outcomes for the UK. In terms of negotiators, we have already had strong expressions of interest from individuals, organisations and Governments.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but will he reassure my constituents that the trade negotiators will speak to strategically important sectors such as aerospace, which employs and trains hundreds of people in Bristol, before they begin detailed negotiations, so that we may guard against horse trading between sectors, which could damage our crucial role in aerospace and other such significant sectors?

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct. It is a question not simply of having a single team, but of having the expertise to deal with specific sectors as well as in-country knowledge. We will certainly ensure that we build a core ability among those negotiators and bring in the sector experts who are so important in getting the sort of deals that she correctly outlines. That is especially important in areas such as the west country.

A team of skilled, experienced, first-class international trade negotiators has been assembled at the Legatum Institute’s special trade commission. Will my right hon. Friend consult the commission and listen to its proposals for a much larger prosperity zone than the European Union?

As I said, the expressions of interest have been wide: they have been from individuals, organisations and Governments. All those who are willing to put their talents at our disposal are extremely welcome. We will be looking at those individuals and the strengths they have in terms of sectoral and in-country knowledge, and we want to draw from the best that is on offer.

Can the Secretary of State confirm whether he is likely to hire any consultants to manage these trade negotiations? According to a headhunter I was speaking to a couple of weeks ago—[Laughter.] Not for my purposes. According to a headhunter I was talking to a couple of weeks ago, the head of a trade negotiating team, if hired as a consultant, would cost around £750,000 a year.

It is nice to see that the Lib Dems are looking forward to repeating their election success at the next election. I always think it is nice for politicians to cover all their options. We do not intend to create a standing army of bureaucrats that would be expensive to the taxpayer. We are looking to see how most effectively we can create the skills and the cadre of negotiators we will require.

I welcome the President of the Board of Trade and his Ministers to their place. May I follow up on the previous question by saying that those in the private sector surely have a lot of experience and insight to offer in particular markets? Will he assure the House that the private sector will be consulted and its skills harnessed and welcomed by the Government?

That is correct, but I would say to counterbalance that that we also have a great deal of expertise inside Whitehall Departments, and it seems to me it would not necessarily be a good use of taxpayers’ money to contract out all these functions when we have the ability to get that knowledge into the negotiations from inside the Departments we already have. I think that a judicious mix between the two would be the appropriate way forward.

I welcome the Secretary of State and his team to this exciting new Department and look forward to working with them to promote British trade across the world. I also welcome his progress in recruiting international trade negotiators, although it seems that they may have to wait some time before they can do any actual negotiating. Does he accept that under the current EU treaty the UK does not possess competence—the right to negotiate separate trade deals—and will he confirm that the UK will assume competence not when article 50 is triggered, but only when the UK actually leaves the EU?

May I reciprocate by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to another one of his many roles in the House of Commons? Let me be very clear that while we are not able to negotiate in terms of concluding a deal while we are members of the EU, there is nothing to stop us having discussions and scoping out future agreements, and I can announce to the House that as of last week we have now concluded a deal to set up a trade working group with India to look at how we will remove barriers to trade before negotiating a free trade agreement on our exit from the EU.