Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 618: debated on Thursday 15 December 2016

The Department for International Trade has three tasks: promoting UK exports to support a growing economy that serves the whole country; maximising opportunities for wealth creation through overseas direct investment to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU. Like the UK, my Department is open for business.

Will my right hon. Friend shed some light on the difference between our trade deficit with the EU and our trade deficit with the USA?

I am pleased to say that we do not have a trade deficit with the US; we have a trade surplus with the US. In fact, we send £100 billion of exports to the US a year, which is 20% of our total, with a £40 billion surplus. The US is responsible for 26% of all our inward investment, and we are responsible for 23% of outward investment to the US. It is a very, very interdependent relationship.

By insulting my wife’s taste in ties, the Secretary of State must await her reprimand, but she must wait in line because there are others who wish to reprimand him. The European Scrutiny Committee told off the Secretary of State for going to Brussels and agreeing the comprehensive economic trade agreement between the EU and Canada without first bringing it to the UK Parliament for scrutiny. He undertook to the Committee that he would bring CETA for debate in this House by the end of November, a deadline that he missed. The Committee then set a more generous deadline, but that deadline expired two days ago, on 13 December. Will he tell us whether he actually believes in taking back sovereignty from Brussels—does he or does he not? If he does, repeatedly denying the UK Parliament the right to properly scrutinise such an important trade agreement is a very odd way to go about it. Will he now commit to bring a debate and a vote to the Floor of the House before the European Parliament finally votes on CETA on 2 February?

May I very gently say to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), whom I hold in the highest esteem, that I hope, in due course, his PhD thesis will be published?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way before Christmas. We did not go against procedure. Owing to parliamentary timetable constraints, we could not offer a debate in the House before signalling political agreement on 18 October. We have committed, and continue to commit, to holding a full parliamentary debate on CETA as soon as possible, and we are working with business managers to arrange it. The European Parliament has now changed the date of the expected vote on the agreement to 2 February 2017, and we hope to have a debate well within that timetable.

T2. Over the past five years, South Korea has been our second fastest growing trading partner. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should seek to boost trade with South Korea further still until we leave the EU and, after we leave the EU, enter a prompt bilateral trade deal with South Korea, which its Government would welcome? (907882)

I know that my hon. Friend takes a huge interest in Korea and his Korean community in Kingston. He knows that I visited Seoul, as did Lord Price, in September and saw for myself what natural allies we will be in the global future of free trade. I had excellent meetings with Samsung and with other interlocutors. We look forward to working very closely with South Korea in the future in developing free trading relationships, and I will make sure that my hon. Friend is very involved.

T3. Recently, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) said in relation to emissions standards that what is good enough for India is good enough for us. May we have a firm assurance that no emissions standards will be watered down as part of any free trade deal? (907883)

The Government take very seriously their environmental obligations and will continue to do so.

T4. On Monday, I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announce that she wanted to take the trade relationship with Israel to the next level—our key ally in the middle east and strong trading partner. Can my right hon. Friend set out the steps that he is taking to ensure that we put in place a new trade deal with Israel, so that we can cement that commitment by the Prime Minister? (907884)

My hon. Friend is right. We have an extraordinarily good relationship with Israel, and we are the second biggest export market for Israel. Currently, we are governed by the association agreement that the EU has with Israel, and we are certainly keen to engage with Israel to make sure that in a post-Brexit world there is no disruption to the trade that we have.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is delighted to be back in the Cabinet, but does he agree that the 1 million jobs that will be put at risk if we leave the customs union matter more than his own career?

I repeat that the Government have made no decision yet in relation to the discussions and negotiations that we will have with the European Union. We have made no decision yet on the customs union. That will be part of the ongoing discussion and the Government will make decisions based on evidence.

T5. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to promote our world-class science base around the globe? Will he confirm that he recognises that face-to-face collaboration is an important part of that continued success, and that we need to attract the best and the brightest to do their research here? (907885)

I commend my hon. Friend on his work as Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee. As he will know, I was in his constituency on Friday looking at some technological innovation at DP World’s fantastic port facilities at the London Gateway. The UK has a long-established system that supports and therefore attracts the brightest minds at all stages of their careers. We will make sure that Britain is the global go-to nation for scientists, innovators and tech investors.

If I understood the hon. Lady’s question correctly, while we remain members of the European Union, of course we are party to all the EU agreements and all the human rights elements attached to those. With regard to the future, the UK has as strong a history as any in the EU of promoting and protecting human rights around the world, including in relation to trade.

T6. In prioritising a post-Brexit free trade deal with Israel, will the Minister ensure that as far as possible the Palestinian Authority is included, because enhanced trade between the UK, Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be an essential part of building a sustainable and lasting peace? (907886)

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. The British Government absolutely support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestine state. We should continue to engage with those countries. I was in Israel not so long ago, but I also visited Ministers in Palestine. We are very keen to engage with both Israel and Palestine.

A recent parliamentary question revealed that the involvement of Scottish companies in the recent trade visit by the Prime Minister to India was very limited. What extra effort can the Secretary of State make to ensure that Scottish companies are better represented by the UK to support them in exporting into new international markets?

We have repeatedly said that this Department is open to all businesses in the United Kingdom when it comes to seeking our support for exports, and I hope that the Scottish Government will encourage businesses in Scotland to work with the Department for International Trade, so that we can maximise that. We have made that offer, and we hope that they will take it up.

We have repeatedly set out our worries about the slowdown in the growth of global trade. That has implications across the globe. It is worth making the general point that we need more free trade because it increases global prosperity. Increasing global prosperity leads to greater political stability, and greater political stability leads to greater global security. It is not possible to disaggregate those different elements.

When the Secretary of State is lobbying for foreign inward investment, does he agree with the comments of his friend the Foreign Secretary, who said that a pound spent in Croydon has more value to this country than a pound spent in Strathclyde?

I bow to no one in this House in terms of my credentials as a Unionist, and I want to see prosperity spread to every part of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Scottish Government’s economic policies will help to contribute to that.