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Topical Questions

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017

The Department for International Trade has three main tasks: promoting British goods and services overseas, supporting inward and outward direct investment and creating a trade policy that benefits our businesses and citizens across the whole UK. To that end, I am delighted to welcome Antonia Romeo as our new permanent secretary and Crawford Falconer as our new chief trade negotiation adviser. Both bring excellence and expertise to the Department at this crucial time.

Fisheries and agriculture, the environment and transport are all key competencies of the National Assembly that could be affected by any future trade deal. Does the Minister concede that the National Assembly must have the power to endorse or reject any trade deal that would so profoundly affect its basic duties?

We have made it clear all along that we intend to have maximum consultation and collaboration in that area and, to emphasise the point, in our manifesto we set out a plan to create a new board of trade, which will ensure that trade and investment is equally spread, as far as we can, across all parts of the United Kingdom—the devolved Administrations, as well as the English regions.

T3. As well as an economic opportunity, there is a moral opportunity in trade with the developing world. Will the Secretary of State please tell the House what steps he is taking to support trade with developing countries? (900287)

We have made it clear that, post Brexit, we will continue with duty-free access for the least-developed countries, but we need to see whether we can go further and reduce some of the burdens, particularly as we leave the customs union and are outside the common external tariff, by stopping the distortions on value added, which diminish the chance of investment in some of those developing countries.

In his recent talks in the United States, did the Secretary of State discuss President Trump’s initiation of a section 232 investigation into the effect of steel imports on US national security? What concerns does the Secretary of State have about the impact such a protectionist ruling might have on the UK’s steel sector and on jobs in our steel industry due to lost exports and trade deflection of dumped goods on our market?

We are all concerned about the overproduction of steel, largely coming from China, and what we have seen as possibly unacceptable subsidies into that sector, but it needs to be addressed in a way that is compliant with the WTO rules-based system. I raised with Secretary Ross and the trade representative, Mr Lighthizer, the impact that could have on the United Kingdom, and it is fair to say that our views landed. We now await the publication of the report, on which the President has up to 90 days to act.

T4. Brecon and Radnorshire is full of excellent small business owners who are looking to trade with the rest of the world, but many are concerned that the trade deals the UK is looking to make with the rest of the world will focus on big, rather than small, businesses. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give to small business owners that their voice will not be lost in negotiations? (900288)

My hon. Friend makes an extremely strong point. Over 99% of businesses in this country’s non-financial business economy are small and medium-sized enterprises. Last year we helped over 1,200 Welsh companies, most of which were SMEs, and we ensure that we have regular SME-focused roundtables. We meet SME representative groups and, of course, SMEs can always access our portal,, which gives important indicators on how to improve their exports.

T2. The Secretary of State wants to leave the EU because he felt it was undemocratic and unaccountable, so why is he happy for the UK to trade under World Trade Organisation rules, given that the WTO is more undemocratic and more unaccountable? (900286)

The two things are not analogous. We operate with the WTO because we believe there needs to be a rules-based system for global trade, and if the WTO did not exist, we would have to invent it today.

T5. My constituency has one of the largest export clusters in the south-west, and it is focused on the rest of the world as much as it is on the EU. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give that we will focus on doing global trade deals and not just on the EU? (900289)

My hon. Friend makes a very valid point, and of course it is not just about exports; it is also about inward investment. Therefore, let me bring the House up to date by saying that at 9.30 this morning we published figures showing that a record-breaking number of foreign direct investment projects came into the UK in 2016-17—2,265—safeguarding nearly 108,000 jobs or creating new jobs in the UK. No doubt, the usual suspects will describe this by saying, “despite Brexit”.

T7. I thank the Ministers for the written answers they have given me this week on the EU-Japan free trade agreement. They were at pains to reassure me that existing animal welfare and environmental standards would be maintained, but can they give me further reassurance that we will use this as an opportunity to address with Japan the illegal timber trade and commercial whaling? (900292)

We engage on these issues on an ongoing basis with Japan. I know this is very important to the hon. Lady, so may I reassure her that the Government share a lot of her concerns on protecting animal welfare in free trade agreements? The UK has one of the best scores on the world animal protection index, where we are in the top four. It is important that we maintain animal welfare standards in this country in future agreements, and I have every confidence that we will.

T6. Ten and a half thousand UK businesses export to Canada, a quarter of a million jobs in the UK rely on trade with Canada and we are likely to be one of the biggest winners from the EU-Canada trade treaty. However, CETA—the EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement—is imperfect, so what are we going to do post-Brexit to ensure that we do even better in our trading relationship with Canada? (900291)

That is a very appropriate question, in this the week of the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation. My hon. Friend will know only too well that the UK exported more than £7 billion-worth of goods and services to Canada in 2015. We have five offices throughout Canada. We remain strongly supportive of CETA, but of course we will look to have a future agreement with Canada at an appropriate time.

Secretary of State, you will be aware that there are not only particular opportunities, but some challenges for each of the devolved regions across the UK in the next few years. Can you outline what plans and intentions you have to fully integrate the interests of the devolved regions within your strategy? Will you commit to an early meeting with delegations from the devolved regions to outline your engagement moving forward?

Order. It is a great pleasure to welcome the hon. Lady to the Chamber again. She is already a prodigious and assiduous contributor, but may I politely say to her that she must not inherit the bad trait of her hon. Friend the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) of referring to the Minister as “you”? The word “you” in this Chamber refers to the Chair, and I have no plans to adopt any policies on these matters. She should refer to the Minister. I am still trying to train the hon. Member for Strangford, but I think his apprenticeship has some distance to travel.

The words “tricks” and “old dogs” definitely come to mind on that one. The hon. Lady makes a good point: there are not only challenges, but great opportunities. It is essential that we look at our trade and investment programmes across the whole of the UK. As I said in answer to an earlier question, that is why we are bringing in the new Board of Trade to help ensure that we have that balance, but I can tell her that in the figures that we announced today Northern Ireland secured 34 new projects, totalling 1,622 new jobs. That is a big gain and this is exactly the sort of programme that we want to encourage to ensure that investment goes to all parts of the UK, ensuring that we create an economy that works for everyone.

You will be delighted to learn, Mr Speaker, that British tie manufacturers’ exports are worth millions of pounds. Can the Secretary of State suggest how this House could help promote the wearing of ties, to increase exports?

I did not check with my fellow Ministers before I came to answer these questions, but I suggest we can lead by example: my tie was made in England.

I cannot claim that mine was; I am not sure. But I am sure that if they are so popular, it will not be necessary to compel people to wear them. We shall move on.