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Trading Opportunities Abroad

Volume 616: debated on Thursday 3 November 2016

5. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses take advantage of future trading opportunities abroad. (907070)

7. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses take advantage of future trading opportunities abroad. (907072)

9. What steps his Department is taking to help businesses take advantage of future trading opportunities abroad. (907074)

We want more British businesses to take advantage of trade opportunities. Currently, only 11% of British businesses export. Our overseas teams continue to help British businesses to win opportunities in 108 different markets, with 190 high-value priority campaigns.

British businesses benefit from the expertise of our embassies and consulates when seeking trading opportunities abroad. I saw that for myself at first hand while I was in Hong Kong over the summer. Will the Minister continue to back British businesses to gain market access by supporting our missions overseas?

I certainly will. My hon. Friend and I had a productive conversation just last week following his successful visit to Hong Kong. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) was also in Hong Kong last month, and we are absolutely committed to using our networks and our professionals overseas to boost both trade and investment.

Given the strong contribution made by the life sciences sector to UK exports—AstraZeneca’s site in Macclesfield made a huge contribution to the company’s £5 billion-worth of exports in 2015—will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps he is taking to work with the sector to ensure that medicines that are researched, developed and manufactured in the UK continue to have ease of access to European markets and global growth markets once the UK leaves the EU?

I know my hon. Friend’s passion for life sciences, and particularly for AstraZeneca’s key role in his constituency. We are liaising and working closely with the industry with an important working group, which has met on several occasions and recently briefed Ministers. We want, of course, the best possible arrangements for trade in all goods and services, including the pharmaceutical sector.

UK Trade & Investment has been very helpful to businesses in my constituency, but there are still many small businesses that need help and support to export and utilise the exchange rate of the pound. Would the Minister advocate UKTI holding events in Wiltshire and around the country to achieve that?

Yes, we are very open-minded about doing events on either a county or a constituency basis. I am open-minded about how that might best be pursued. We have regional teams in the Department for International Trade, but if my hon. Friend and I were to have a discussion, particularly about what we may be able to do in Chippenham, I would be all ears.

Will the Minister look at the trading opportunities we need for sectors that play to our comparative advantage already? As he knows, financial services amount to 12% of our output, yet the sector faces not a 10% or 20% tariff after April 2019 if we get this wrong, but a ban on selling and trading in many financial products altogether. What about some transitional arrangements? Will he talk to the Treasury about that?

The hon. Gentleman and I used to spar regularly on Treasury matters. I congratulate him on his election to the International Trade Committee. I look forward to appearing before him in due course. He will know that our priority is to maintain the maximum possible access to the single market across all these sectors.

Research published this week by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research shows that access to the single market is vital for the future trading of many Scottish companies. Leaving would have implications of titanic proportions. The Minister’s Government stood on a manifesto commitment to retain membership of the single market. Given that voters in Scotland voted to preserve that status in June’s referendum and that both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government believe that that is in our best interests, what assurance can the Minister give individuals and businesses in Scotland that he will listen to the forthcoming proposals by the Scottish Government and deliver on that Government’s triple mandate to keep Scotland in the single market?

Of course we will listen to proposals and suggestions made by the Scottish Government. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear on that. However, as we are talking about icebergs, perhaps the hon. Lady will reflect on one thing: 64% of goods leaving Scotland are destined for the rest of the United Kingdom. When it comes to a single market, I think she might prioritise that single market, rather than the one in which only 15% of goods go to the European Union.

The Foreign Secretary forgot about the icebergs when he mentioned the Titanic last night. Uncertainty is the enemy of business. Businesses need certainty about our future trading arrangements so they can make investment decisions. As the president of the Japanese chamber of commerce has said, other EU states are talking to UK-based companies. Are the warnings not there for all to hear? If the Secretary of State for International Trade has a plan, he needs to share it, otherwise businesses that need certainty will go elsewhere to find it.

May I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Front Bench? It is good to see that the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) has some reinforcements this week. I notice that he has lost three of his four portfolios since he last appeared in the Chamber, so it is good to see other hon. Members helping him out.

I attended an event with the Japanese ambassador only this week. He was clear about the role that Japan plays and that Britain plays in promoting global free trade and global free markets. That is rather in contrast to the hon. Gentlemen’s leader calling free trade a “dogma”, which I think should be condemned.