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House of Commons Hansard
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23 March 2017
Volume 623
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6. What discussions he has had with businesses, trade bodies and industry representatives on the potential effects of World Trade Organisation rules in the event that the Government do not secure free trade agreements with other countries after the UK leaves the EU. [909453]

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10. What discussions he has had with businesses, trade bodies and industry representatives on the potential effects of WTO rules in the event that the Government do not secure free trade agreements with other countries after the UK leaves the EU. [909457]

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14. What discussions he has had with businesses, trade bodies and industry representatives on the potential effects of WTO rules in the event that the Government do not secure free trade agreements with other countries after the UK leaves the EU. [909462]

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International Trade Ministers and officials regularly meet British businesses to discuss trade policy matters. These discussions have included our position in the WTO, work under way to avoid the loss of trade preferences that UK firms currently access via EU trade arrangements, and future trade negotiation priorities. The Department for Exiting the EU is also engaged fully with British businesses.

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As an EU member state, we are party to free trade agreements with countries such as Mexico, South Korea and South Africa. Is it the responsibility of his Department or the Department for Exiting the European Union to negotiate the grandfathering or replacement of those agreements?

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I can absolutely confirm that DIT leads in every sense on the trade negotiations with the rest of the world. The Department for Exiting the European Union is restricted to the European Union.

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How does the Department intend to help businesses trading with non-EU countries overcome trade barriers such as tariffs and rules of origin requirements if the Government are unable to secure continuation of preferential trading terms?

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When we leave the European Union, it is the intention of the Department for International Trade to carry over the existing trade deals that we enjoy through our membership of the European Union. Countries such as Mexico, for example, have trade deals with the EU, and it is our intention to carry over such trade deals in the first instance in order to avoid any cliff edge.

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The Minister will be aware of statements made by the head of the PSA Group, following the takeover of Vauxhall-General Motors group, that when new models are awarded plants across Europe will be judged on their competitiveness. A 10% tariff on cars would have a huge impact on the competitiveness of the UK car industry, so what contingency plans do the Government have to ensure that the UK car industry remains competitive?

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The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this point; he speaks on behalf of his constituents in an area that manufactures these vehicles. It is the intention that the UK can achieve tariff-free, customs-free access to the single market. That benefits not only the UK car manufacturers that produce 1.9 million cars, but the European manufacturers that export to the UK.

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Many countries breach WTO rules by using a whole series of non-tariff barriers such as local content requirements. What discussions have the Government had to get the WTO to enforce those rules, and what can we do to ensure that those countries are persuaded against this practice?

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My hon. Friend is right. Non-tariff barriers are incredibly disruptive to free trade, and we take that very seriously. We will be looking at our own system of trade remedies, but at the moment everything has been done through the European Union. We need to start engaging in that. To a certain extent, we have had conversations with other countries through the joint economic and trade committees, where we can deal with that.

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The Government will know that WTO rules are not something that we fall back on, but the ultimate foundation of all international trade. Will the Minister bear in mind the advice of Economists for Free Trade, which has said that a UK free trade policy could add 4% to GDP in the long term and reduce consumer prices by 8%?

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Free trade is absolutely the key to giving prosperity to the world, including the UK—it is a huge benefit to developing nations, as well as developed nations. For consumers, there is the opportunity to have market choice, and therefore price choice, which can be incredibly helpful to the economy.

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Tech City UK published its excellent “Tech Nation” report yesterday, showing that investment in digital companies in the UK is 50% higher than in any other European country. I know that my hon. Friend and his fellow Ministers are supporting the tech industry strongly, but has he made an analysis of how WTO rules will affect it?

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The Department for International Trade is carrying out an analysis of how WTO rules will affect every sector of our economy. This is an ongoing process, but my right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the technology sector as one in which this country is leading, and that is a fantastic opportunity.

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Mr Speaker, you and I have been in this House for 20 years, and after yesterday’s attack, I have never felt more proud or more grateful to be speaking in this Chamber.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the need to deploy WTO trade remedies? We know that the Government opposed anti-dumping measures in Europe that would have protected British industries. Earlier, he spoke of a balance of interests between UK producers and UK consumers. If there is to be a balance, how many specialist staff has he recruited to deploy successful anti-dumping measures and protect vital UK jobs in the steel and ceramics industries from dumping by China?

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We will bring forward our proposals on this to the House in due course, but at the moment we are looking to adopt a rules-based process to deal with it.