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Exiting the EU: Trade Agreements

Volume 636: debated on Thursday 22 February 2018

2. What estimate his Department has made of the number of new institutions required to replicate the terms of existing trade agreements with the EU after the UK leaves the EU. (903860)

The Government are committed to seeking continuity in our trading arrangements to minimise disruption to businesses, consumers and our trading partners. We will ensure that the institutional provisions of existing agreements are met as the UK begins to operate its independent trade policy.

What parliamentary shared goals do the Government have in mind for the new arrangements that will come into place?

To be absolutely clear, if the hon. Lady is referring to the Trade Bill, what we are looking at is the transitioning of existing trading arrangements with the EU. All those agreements have already been through parliamentary scrutiny. If she is referring to future trade agreements, we will bring that subject back to this House in due course.

One of the new institutions we shall need to set up as we leave the EU is a trade remedies authority. I recently travelled to Canada and the US with the International Trade Committee. They are two countries that have robust trade remedies authorities whose impartiality can be critical in reaching economically sound judgments. What assurances can the Minister offer the House that the UK Government are similarly committed to an independent TRA that will be free from undue political interference?

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the other members of the Committee on their recent visit to the United States and Canada. Those are two of the countries whose trade remedy systems we have studied, along with Australia and, in fact, the European Union system itself. As my hon. Friend says, it is common, although not universal, for the investigation process to be independent of the Government, but there is still a political decision at the end of the process by a Minister who is accountable to Parliament. It is worth pointing out, by the way, that all the Opposition parties voted against the creation of the trade remedies authority in the first place.

I do not know whether a bridge counts as an institution, but I wonder whether the policy of the Department for International Trade, like that of the Foreign Office, is that a new fixed link between Britain and France is required to continue to improve trade after Brexit.

We have been absolutely clear throughout this process about the importance of maintaining our trading relations with the European Union. That is why we are seeking to ensure that trade is as frictionless as possible, and why we are seeking a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU.

The EU does not have comprehensive free trade agreements with some of the world’s major economies. Does the Minister believe that the United Kingdom is likely to strike such deals more quickly than the European Union?

We remain supportive of the European Union’s negotiations with some of those trade partners while we are still a member of the EU, because we are strong believers in free trade. We have also set up 14 trade working groups with many of the leading economies, including China, India and the United States, and we look forward to making further progress with those arrangements in due course.

Our current trading relationships with many partners ranging from Switzerland to Mexico are overseen by joint committees of the EU and those other states. Will the Minister tell us how many of the committees will be replaced by UK equivalents after Brexit, and what progress his Department has made in establishing those institutions? Will he also tell us where the staff and expertise will be sourced from, and at what cost to the taxpayer?

Let me say first that the UK played a leading role in establishing the European Union arrangements with countries such as Mexico and Switzerland in the first place. As for the question of where we go from here, our priority is to maintain continuity in our trading relations, ensuring that all the 40-plus trading agreements we have with 70-plus countries become UK arrangements as we leave the European Union. The precise format of the further discussions that we will have with those partners will be a matter for future arrangements.