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Global Trade

Volume 618: debated on Thursday 15 December 2016

With the current slowdown in the growth of global trade, the UK must be a world leader in championing free trade worldwide and banging a drum for British business. Our measures to support UK business trading globally include a network of advisers in 109 markets, online advice at and support through UK Export Finance. Both myself and ministerial colleagues have continued to meet businesses in the UK and abroad, including 50 ministerial visits to 34 markets overseas.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Professor Patrick Minford has estimated that UK trade liberalisation would cut consumer prices by 8%. Does the Secretary of State agree that forging our own free trade arrangements outside the EU presents huge opportunities to ease the cost of living for low-income families?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, and he is right to highlight the potential of free trade to reduce the cost of living in this country. Free trade ensures that more people can access more goods at better value, making their incomes go further, whereas protectionism tends to hurt the poorest the most.

It has been two years since the then Environment Secretary announced with great fanfare plans to sell pigs’ trotters to China. As my written question this week revealed, we are still no closer to signing the pigs’ trotters protocol. If it takes this long to reach an agreement to sell pigs’ trotters, what does that say about our ability to make all the other trade deals we need in the wake of Brexit?

I am very intent that our agricultural exports continue apace. I shall continue to push pigs’ trotters as fast as they can possibly go.

A very alluring prospect, to be accomplished by the right hon. Gentleman probably not without sweat or emotion.

Many countries are using non-tariff barriers to block global trade. However, as the Secretary of State is well aware, in countries such as Brazil we are now seeing real progress in the removal of local content regulations. What more can be done to encourage other countries to follow this example?

I thank my hon. Friend for his work as our trade envoy to Brazil. I was extremely impressed in the meetings I had last week in that country that we are now seeing major attempts not only to open up markets, but to deal with endemic corruption. That corruption is one of the biggest single barriers to trade, and, as the World Bank has made clear, improved governance is a major improvement in the potential for trade.

The Secretary of State recently reaffirmed the Government’s target to double exports by 2020, but at the autumn statement the Office for Budget Responsibility contradicted this, stating that it expects UK trade to reduce as a result of the UK leaving the EU and the single market. So who is right: does he accept the assessment of the experts of the OBR, yes or no?

I am tempted to ask the hon. Lady if she would like Santa to bring her a dictionary, because expectations and targets are not the same thing.

Will my right hon. Friend seek to unblock the global trading system by adopting a new open anti-distortions agreement that can deliver free trade and self-government, fight crony capitalism at home and defend against predatory practice abroad, like the one proposed by the Legatum Institute special trade commission?

I do not think I need to explain to my hon. Friend that I and my fellow Ministers have set out the case for free trade on a number of occasions. We are seeing a slowdown in the rate of global trade growth at present, which is a threat to the prosperity of people across the globe. We must have more open trade, fewer tariffs and fewer non-tariff barriers if we are to succeed in that task.

One of the steps that the Government are taking to expand UK trade is through arms sales, particularly to the middle east. In July, the Committees on Arms Export Controls heard evidence that there was an imbalance in arms sales, with promotion coming at the expense of regulation

“such that in UK practice those things are at odds.”

Does the Secretary of State recognise that imbalance? If he does, what does he propose to do about it? If he does not, has he chastised the White House for the remarks this week that “systemic, endemic” problems in Saudi Arabia’s targeting of civilians in Yemen drove the US decision to halt a future weapons sale, which has the Secretary of State and British policy in this area looking callous and threadbare?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; this is the first time in my life that I have been grateful for being colour blind. [Laughter.] This country has one of the world’s strictest arms control regimes. It is both robust and transparent, and decisions are scrutinised intensely. I simply do not accept the picture that he paints of the UK’s attitude.

I am going to play the role of tie referee and say that the tie of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) is absolutely beautiful. It is tasteful and interesting, not boring like all too many ties. Now, let us hear from the fellow from Gloucester.

The UK has an excellent tradition of hosting major international sports events—most recently the Olympics, the Commonwealth games, and the Rugby World cup—and other countries hosting such events can benefit from our expertise. In 2018, Indonesia will host the Asian games, which is a great opportunity to highlight the improvements it has made in infrastructure development. Should my right hon. Friend have the chance to visit south-east Asia in the new year, will he highlight British expertise and the help that we can give Indonesia to deliver a magnificent Asian games?

Yet again, I am able to thank an hon. Friend for working as a trade envoy—this time to Indonesia. My hon. Friend’s specific point applies more generally: the United Kingdom can provide great service sector skills to many countries, which not only helps them to mature their economies, but provides them with the ability to grow their markets, offering an export opportunity for the United Kingdom.

Newcastle international airport plays a vital role in the north-east’s economy, by facilitating over £300 million-worth of exports every year. Like other English regional airports, however, it faces unfair competition on tax as air passenger duty is devolved to Scotland. The Government have failed to commit to mitigate that. What discussions will the Department have with the Treasury to ensure that airports such as Newcastle can continue to play a vital role in international trade?

Such imbalances are an inevitable consequence of devolution, for which the hon. Lady’s party campaigned. I also have a regional airport in my constituency, and I can assure her that the ongoing discussions with the Treasury will be not just general but personal.