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Trade Deficit: Goods and Services

Volume 636: debated on Thursday 22 February 2018

In 2016, the UK had a trade deficit with the EU of £70.97 billion, and a trade surplus of £39 billion with non-EU countries, up from £33.6 billion in 2015. The latest trade figures show that in 2017, the UK’s trade deficit in goods and services narrowed by £7 billion to £33.7 billion.

Balance of trade figures were once regarded as pivotal. They were even thought to win or lose elections. Given that we are now going to escape from the constraining clutches of the European Union, will my right hon. Friend invest again in old friends and rejuvenate our relationships in the realm with allies such as Australia and New Zealand? What steps has he taken to ensure preferential arrangements with such old allies?

My right hon. Friend asks a very good question. First, I should like to put on record my thanks to him for leading various Government trade delegations in recent years, including one to Colombia. I know that he takes a strong interest in this subject. As I said earlier, we have set up trade working groups with Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and, unlike Opposition Front Benchers, we also voted for the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, the EU’s free trade agreement with Canada. The Secretary of State has been in all four of those markets in the past year, leading efforts to break down trade barriers and to seek new trade agreements.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) enjoyed going to Colombia. Quite what Colombia made of the right hon. Gentleman is not recorded.

The creative sector in Bristol West—particularly the music industry—is important, and trade in that sector is a service industry. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the creative industries, particularly the music industry, are supported as we leave the EU?

The hon. Lady is quite right to point out the importance of services to our trade. Overall, services represent 80% of our economy and 79% of jobs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the whole team are working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that we continue to grow exports from our creative sector and that investment from abroad continues to come into the sector. We often visit places such as Tech City UK and techUK, and we are working closely with them to ensure that we have a flourishing future for our creative industries.

Last week, as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kosovo, I visited a British company in Pristina that has a £20 million investment there. What opportunities does the Minister foresee for widening our trade in goods and services with Kosovo and the neighbouring western Balkan countries?

This is a very good opportunity. That is a part of the world that I know well, and I think that the company to which my hon. Friend refers is called Fox Marble—a highly appropriate name for this particular Question Time. It finds top-quality marble in Kosovo for export, and it should be congratulated. In regard to the wider region, we work closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promote trading opportunities throughout the region.