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Topical Questions

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 23 March 2017

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, including through overseas direct investment, to support the current account; and negotiating the best international trading framework for the UK outside the EU.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to acknowledge Sir Martin Donnelly, who leaves our Department after 36 years in the civil service. He is a great and distinguished civil servant who will be very much missed by my Department and more widely.

Last weekend, we learned that the Secretary of State’s Department is secretly working on a 10-year transitional arrangement with the EU, based on the WTO general agreement on tariffs and trade. Will he confirm that the Scottish Government and all other devolved Administrations are being consulted so that the interests of all the nations of the UK are represented, should a trade deal not be reached in time?

The Department is not working on a secret agreement with anybody, including the European Union. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to press reports about the possible use of WTO rules to ensure a smooth transition at the point when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

T2. There has been considerable investment in the offshore wind sector off the East Anglian coast in recent years. With article 50 being triggered next Wednesday, will the Minister set out the Government’s plans to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in the sector, and to attract global investment in innovation and research, so that local businesses are well placed to win contracts at home and overseas? (909441)

The Department for International Trade works with, and will continue to work with, key UK suppliers, potential and existing inward investors, foreign Governments and offshore wind developers. The UK is building a competitive and innovative supply chain that creates and sustains jobs, exports and economic benefits for the UK as we leave the European Union.

Now that the Secretary of State has revealed to The Sun his plans for a trade Bill in the Queen’s Speech, will he do Parliament the courtesy of publishing a trade White Paper that sets out clearly what markets he wishes to liberalise and what measures he will take in future trade agreements to protect and enhance International Labour Organisation principles, sustainable development, human rights, environmental protection, intellectual property rights, food standards, future options on state-owned enterprises and the ability to nationalise particular sectors? If he develops an informed, consultative international trade policy, the Government may be able to restore confidence that they are holding trade dialogues that are backed by a clear and strategic plan.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Should the Government intend to introduce legislation on this issue in the Queen’s Speech, we would want a consultative process so that stakeholders could make their views known. It is important that we do that in a very collegiate way, because that is, as he said, the way to maintain and maximise confidence.

T4. The aerospace sector is of great importance in Derbyshire. What steps are the Government taking to promote the UK’s excellence in this sector around the world? (909443)

Our aim is absolutely to keep the UK as a leading aerospace—and, indeed, space—nation. We will continue to work with the industry through the aerospace growth partnership and to promote foreign investment, boost exports and grow high-value jobs here in the UK.

T3. The UK video game sector is one of our great success stories. I was with Ninja Theory in Cambridge on Friday. The trade body UKIE has consulted its members, who have told it that maintaining data flows in Europe is essential. Can the Minister tell us what progress has been made on securing a data adequacy agreement with the European Union? (909442)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to celebrate the activities of this creative industry sector. However, since we have not started the article 50 process, we have not entered into any specific talks.

T5. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with Commonwealth countries about trade and investment opportunities? (909444)

Just over a week ago, we held our first conference with Commonwealth Trade Ministers. That gave us an opportunity to look at how we might maximise intra-Commonwealth trade and at the differences between our trading systems. That will help us to move towards greater consistency in the rules that we apply so that all in the Commonwealth can get even greater benefit from a system that is growing faster than the global economy and should be much more beneficial.

T7. When will the Government notify other contracting parties to the European economic area agreement of their intention to withdraw from the EEA? (909446)

As we withdraw from the European Union, we will be having continued discussions with our partners about how we intend the process to be notified.

The subject of product standards is incredibly important. My hon. Friend will be aware that the great repeal Bill will bring across a great deal of what relates to the European Union, and that Bill will contain detail about product standards.

What influence can my right hon. Friend bring to the showcasing of great British beer in embassies around the world?

We give great priority to all great British exports, and let me give my hon. Friend a personal commitment that I will take an unusually strong personal interest in the request that he makes on the regular trips that I intend to take in the coming months.

T8. My constituent Heather Burns works in the digital economy. She has only ever known a borderless, connected world of work. Can the Secretary of State reassure her that he understands the difficulties that Brexit is likely to cause for this very globally focused industry? What action is he going to take to prevent problems from occurring? (909447)

One problem that we have faced in recent times is that although the European Commission has been relatively forward-leaning on digital issues, European Union members have prevented the Commission from taking forward some of the measures of liberalisation that would, in fact, help this country and others. As we leave the European Union, we will want to see what advantages there are for the United Kingdom in liberalising our economy, especially so that the digital economy and e-commerce can flourish.