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Trade Deals: Non-EU Countries

Volume 634: debated on Thursday 11 January 2018

As the Prime Minister set out in her Florence speech, the UK will seek a time-limited implementation period with the EU. We will prepare for our future independent trade policy by negotiating trade deals with third countries, which could come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period. To that end, we have already established a series of 14 working groups and high-level dialogues with key trade partners.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is still on track to deliver 40 trade deals with non-EU countries after we leave the European Union in March 2019, as he said he would be? Will he explain to the House what demands there have been from those countries for additional visas for their citizens to come to the United Kingdom, and how that impacts on the tens of thousands figure?

The Government are indeed committed to ensuring continuity of the 40 or so EU free trade agreements after we leave the European Union, and that is why we introduced the relevant legislation this week. I am, however, rather disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman and his party saw fit to vote against that legislation, and deny British business that confidence.

Our clear aim is to achieve continuity and stability. We want the agreements that we have already as part of the EU to be delivered safely and securely into UK law, and that is the point of the Trade Bill.

Concerns have been raised that the transitional arrangements may lead to significant changes to the detriment of the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is not intending to make any significant or substantive changes to any of the transitional arrangements?

That is absolutely correct; we aim to keep the transitional arrangements as close as possible to the condition they are in today, given that we have some minor changes to make, for example in the disaggregation of tariff-rate quotas.

From the preliminary dialogue that my right hon. Friend has had with the United States, what assessment has he made of the prospect of doing a trade deal with that country?

May I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on his well-deserved recognition of the service that he has given to this House and his constituency? We have four working groups with the United States on continuity, short-term outcomes, the potential scoping of a future free-trade agreement, and working with the US at the World Trade Organisation. I am content that we are making progress on all fronts.

I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart). He is a wonderful man, but I warn the Secretary of State not to send him anywhere at very high altitude because he is not very good with that.

The Secretary of State is right to try to pursue lots of good trade deals with countries outside the European Union, but is one of the major problems the corruption in some of the biggest countries? Brazil, Russia, India and China all fall very low down on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, and especially in Russia it is difficult for British businesses to do big business because they have to pay bribes all the time.

The hon. Gentleman is right, and when I am having those discussions I often describe corruption as a supply-side constraint in many of those economies. If we are able to get trade agreements and good legal agreements, and if we make transparency a key element of that, we will be contributing to success on both sides.