Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 23 November 2017

My Department has three tasks: promoting UK exports of goods and services, investment both inwards and outwards, and trade policy. In furtherance of this, since we last met for departmental questions on 12 October, Ministers have undertaken visits to Europe, the Gulf, Asia and Africa. Today I shall be travelling to New Zealand and then Australia.

I would also like to formally welcome Baroness Rona Fairhead to the Department. She has joined as Minister responsible for trade and export promotion, and she will be making her maiden speech in the other place on Monday.

Will the Secretary of State convene a great Commonwealth trade conference in 2018 for all 52 Commonwealth nations, to harness the rising tide of good will, optimism and support for enhanced intra-Commonwealth trade post-Brexit?

I know my hon. Friend takes a strong interest in this, and he makes a valuable point. As the host of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next April, the UK is committed to highlighting the value of, and increasing, intra-Commonwealth trade. Businesses will have an opportunity to meet in a three-day forum that will see a diverse range of sectors represented. This will help us promote our vision for global Britain and to celebrate and grow the vital intra-Commonwealth trade that he mentions.

America’s Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross told the CBI this month that the essential precondition of a trade deal with the USA was to move our regulation standards and environmental protections away from the EU and closer to those of the Americans. Last week, Michel Barnier said that the essential precondition of a good trade deal with the EU was to keep our regulation standards and environmental protections close to the European model. The Government say their top priority is securing barrier-free trade with the EU, so does the Secretary of State accept that he can have American cake or European gateau, but he cannot have both?

Sack the writer.

When it comes to standards, we have made it very clear that we will not see a reduction in the quality or safety of products—either goods or services—made available to UK consumers. We will determine in the United Kingdom what we think those should be, and then we will negotiate with any countries that are willing to negotiate on those terms. We will determine what we choose for Britain’s future. Unlike the Opposition, we will not be dictated to by Mr Barnier.

Outward direct investment is a new priority of the Government since the summer of 2016. We have launched a number of pilots looking at how best we might approach that, and there is funding available in the prosperity fund for it.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his role as the trade envoy to Pakistan? In September I visited a very successful example of outward direct investment, the huge GSK plant in Karachi, which produces more than 200 million packages of medicine for the Pakistan market and is a vital part of GSK’s overseas operation.

T2. A freedom of information request revealed that the Minister acted as a lobbyist for oil and gas companies in Brazil on taxation and environmental licensing issues. Does he think that is consistent with the Government’s commitment to lead the world in environmental protection, and that it conforms with the ministerial code of conduct? (902519)

This is an excellent opportunity to correct the misinformation that was put in The Guardian on Monday, on which the Department put out a release afterwards to be absolutely clear that the basis of the meeting with the Brazilian Energy Minister, which I might add was public at the time—I even put it on Twitter, but it took The Guardian six months to pick up on it—was to secure a level playing field for British companies in that market. We make no apology for saying that Brazil’s tough environmental regulations should apply equally to all companies across the board.

T4. Yesterday I met a delegation of businessmen from the seafood sector based in north-east Lincolnshire. One of our meetings was to discuss the possible designation of Immingham and Grimsby as free ports, and the businessmen seemed quite enthusiastic about that. Will my right hon. Friend expand on how we might pursue that post-Brexit? (902522)

As we leave the EU, we will be able to shape trade policy in our national interest and take advantage of things that are not available to us as a member of the EU. Free ports are one possible tool in that context, and we will want to look closely at the implications. Another thing that might help my hon. Friend, who has a large fish processing capability in his constituency employing some 5,000 people, is discussing with the Department what overseas direct investment might do for expanding that business’s potential.

Will the Secretary of State confirm how the devolved Administrations will be consulted during the process of these future free trade agreements?

I had discussions recently with all the different parts of the devolved Administrations. They will clearly be very important partners in putting together our future free trade agreements, and they should be treated with due respect in that. However, I would say that they are not the only voices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will want to consult businesses, consumers, unions and the general public, and we will need to have a much wider consultation in future than we have had in the past.

Small Business Saturday is an increasingly important business day in the run-up to Christmas. How are the Secretary of State and his Department helping small businesses in my constituency to export more?

Small Business Saturday is in its fifth year. It is a celebration of our small businesses, and I imagine that all Members of the House will be taking part and celebrating businesses in their own constituencies. I shall be with the UK export hub, which some Members have had experience of, in Portishead in my constituency. I encourage as many as possible of the members of the public who may be paying attention to these proceedings to attend.

Clause 2 of the Trade Bill gives powers to Ministers, potentially for the whole of the next decade, to sort out the issue of the 60 or so trade agreements that we currently benefit from with third countries by virtue of our membership with the EU. Far from being resolved in the next 16 months, is it not the case that that issue—dividing up tariff quotas and so on, and defining a new UK-EU trading relationship—rather than the fiction of the Secretary of State’s fantasy trade deals elsewhere, will dominate the work of the Department over the next few years?

We already touched on this a little earlier in question time. Can we be absolutely clear that my predecessor, Lord Price, and I have met all the key trading partners that are subject to those deals? We have in-principle agreement from most of them, and we have had no problem from any of them about transitioning those key trade agreements, so we do not foresee that being a difficulty. It is a technical process. Of course, there are one or two things that need to be sorted out in talks with those partners, but we are in the right position and we look forward to transitioning those agreements as a key part of our trading future.