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Topical Questions

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018

Mr Speaker, you should see the length of the answers before we get to this stage.

My Department is responsible for UK exports, investment and trade policy. As we begin 2018, the House should note that in 2017 we achieved an all-time record for foreign direct investment. Our exports are up by 14% and employment is at a record level. Yesterday we saw that venture capital coming into tech firms was also at an all-time high, and that is before we consider the improvements in our manufacturing performance.

The Secretary of State does not want to trade under EU rules, under which we have considerable influence, but he is happy to trade under World Trade Organisation rules, under which we do not have very much influence. What does he find objectionable about EU trading rules that he does not find objectionable about the WTO?

That is rather to misunderstand the situation, because the EU itself has to trade under WTO rules and is not exempt from them. We look forward to having our independent seat on the WTO, of which we are a former member, so that we can have a greater say in global trading policy, because as a member of the European Union we have none.

T4. What practical steps is my right hon. Friend’s Department taking to increase capacity in developing countries to trade their way to sustainable growth? (903227)

Assisting trade capability in the developing world is one of the key parts of our official development assistance strategy, launched by the Department for International Development last year. In Buenos Aires last month the Secretary of State and I announced a big increase in funding for the WTO’s enhanced integrated framework, which does precisely that, making the UK the largest donor to that WTO fund.

The steel industry has repeatedly complained that the Government are not prepared to impose penalties on exports from countries with significant market distortions. America is clear, having imposed penalties on China under section 232, and the EU is clear, having recently voted to pass new anti-dumping rules, but the Secretary of State has constantly ducked the issue and refused to say what his Department will do after we leave the EU. When will he give the steel industry a straight answer?

What a cheek, in the very week that Labour voted against our ability to impose any penalties whatsoever in future. The steel industry and steelworkers in this country were betrayed this week by Labour Members, who would leave them as sitting ducks for dumping and subsidy, such is their love for their new hard-left, anti-trade ideology.

T3. The Secretary of State will be aware that Scotch whisky is one of the UK’s greatest exports, and much of it is produced in my Moray constituency. Around 10% of the industry’s £4 billion of annual exports are linked to EU free trade agreements. Will he update me on the steps he is taking to ensure that, when we leave the EU, the benefits of EU free trade agreements to the industry are maintained? (903226)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are committed to seeking continuity in our current trade and investment relationships, including those covered by EU trade preferences. Scotch whisky is a very important part of our exports and we want to maintain the vital bilateral dispute mechanisms, all of which are part of Scotch whisky’s contribution to our economy.

T2. In setting up the Trade Remedies Authority, the Government will need to include a full range of skills, knowledge and experience. Will that include representations from the devolved Governments and trade unions? (903225)

The Government are still looking at the potential membership. Of course before we can do so we have to have the legal basis for establishing the Trade Remedies Authority. The hon. Gentleman voted with his party against its establishment.

T5. Last year, I welcomed Nesta and Sage to Parliament when they launched their report on the state of small businesses. It said that just 18% of British small and medium-sized enterprises are exporting around the world, so what more can the Department do to help our innovative small businesses, especially in providing more information on the local rules and regulations those companies face in other markets? (903228)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for all she does to champion Chelmsford exporters, building on her great expertise in the European Parliament and elsewhere.

The Department does huge amounts to support small businesses to export and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy explained earlier, we are seeing significant success in that regard. Baroness Fairhead recently announced a new great export readiness tool on to help SMEs better to understand how export-ready they are and what they can do to start exporting or to expand their exporting activity.

T6. Given what we know Saudi Arabia to be doing in Yemen, is it appropriate that we should still be selling arms to it? (903229)

All arms exports are covered by the consolidated criteria and, as the recent judicial review showed, the Government pay very due attention not just to the letter, but to the spirit of the consolidated criteria.

T7. With particular reference to the Trade Remedies Authority, will my right hon. Friend expand further on the potential consequences had the House voted the Trade Bill down this week? (903230)

Were we not to establish our own Trade Remedies Authority, we would be unable to protect British business from dumping and subsidy in future. All those in this country who work in the chemicals, steel or ceramics industries will now know that the Conservative party is determined to have the legal protections they deserve, but the Labour party and its allies in this House voted against giving our businesses and those workers that protection.

T8. Scotland is known internationally for its high- quality food and drink such as whisky and seafood, but there is real concern about the loss of protected geographical indications that are backed by the EU. How will the Secretary of State consult all the devolved Governments to help them to protect their unique products? (903231)

The hon. Lady should judge the Government by their action. In the transitional adoption of the agreements that we already have as a member of the EU—in those 40 trade agreements—protection of GI is an essential part. I notice that the Scottish National party voted against that as well.

Exports from my constituency include agricultural products from firms such as Saltire Seed and exports from the Aiken Group, one of the world’s leading suppliers for engineering solutions. What would the impact on Aberdeen be of not being able to implement continuity trade agreements with countries with which the EU already has trade deals?

Clearly, there would be a major disruption in the local economy, which is why it is so important that we get that continuity. The reason the Government introduced the Trade Bill with the parameters it has is that we are looking to get stability and continuity on the agreements we already have. I reiterate what I said in the House a couple of days ago: it is not about new free trade agreements; it is about giving stability to the ones we already have, which is why I am amazed that anyone should vote against the Bill.

What analysis has the Department done of the cost to business of complying with possible new non-tariff barriers, and what help will the Government provide companies, particularly SMEs, to understand the impact of any possible changes in this area?

Of course we look at all possible scenarios, but I reiterate what I have said several times today: we want to see an open and comprehensive trading agreement with the European Union, because that is good not only for the United Kingdom but for the European Union. European member states are looking for their companies to have access to the UK market, just as we are doing the other direction.

Last month, I welcomed a delegation from Taiwan to my constituency, where we met representatives of the offshore renewables sector and the seafood sector. Will Ministers work with me and with local businesses to ensure that we maximise our exports to that growing market?

Last month, I chaired the second of our joint economic and trade committee talks with Taiwan, and I can tell my hon. Friend that renewable energy was right at the heart of those talks. The UK has the highest capacity market anywhere in the world for offshore wind, and that is of strong interest to the Taiwanese authorities. Those discussions are ongoing.