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Topical Questions

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 29 March 2018

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy on export promotion. Yesterday I chaired the 10th UK-Brazil Joint Economic and Trade Committee, where we signed memorandums of understanding on infrastructure, innovation and trade facilitation.

The Chinese Government recently turned the tap on exports of waste plastic to China. That has made a fantastic and very disturbing difference in the chemical market in Britain. If the Chinese Government did the same in higher education, what would be the impact? Has the Secretary of State done any analysis of that?

I had discussions in China only last week about exporting UK educational expertise. There is a huge appetite for that around the world, because there is an increasing acceptance that it is the gold standard. In fact, UK exports of education last year outstripped the City of London’s insurance business and continue to grow with Government support.

T2. Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituent, Simon Bainbridge, who is one of the finest producers of Northumbrian lamb, that lamb sales will not be forgotten in the new free trade agreements? (904672)

Far from being forgotten, advocating further exports of high-quality UK produce is at the top of the Government’s agenda. I can tell my hon. Friend the good news that the latest international market to open up to British lamb is Saudi Arabia, with enormous potential.

GKN has total sales of £10.4 billion, £9 billion of which are outside the UK. Profits from its operations in 30 countries around the world are repatriated to the UK. It will not be much of a global Britain if the Secretary of State’s approach is to stand idly by while a business like GKN that is so vital to our international trade is allowed to be subject to a hostile takeover that can lead only to its break-up and sale. Why has he stayed so silent on such a crucial issue for our trading prospects?

The allegation that anybody has stood idly by is utter rot. On Monday—perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not been following the news—my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary issued an open letter to Melrose, the company that is doing the bidding, to request certain safeguards for employees, and so on, if the bid was successful. Melrose has responded, agreeing to give those very assurances. We took action on this days ago. He needs to keep up with the news.

T4. SMEs are the backbone of our economy. As a Minister, I tried to help SMEs in the security sector to export. Food and farming businesses in Lincolnshire would like to do the same, but they need encouragement, advice and support. Will the Secretary of State meet me and a small group of others to see how we can help to feed the world and make it safe too? (904674)

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question. I would of course be delighted to meet him and colleagues to discuss food and drink, which is so important both to his constituency and mine. I am delighted to say that last year food and drink exports went up by £2 billion to £22 billion, and that, for the first time ever, we have a Department of State whose only role is to focus on the international economic interests of this nation. I will be delighted to meet him to discuss how we can do more.

T3. The dumping of steel from states including China has had a detrimental impact on the steel industry in the UK. Ahead of the further dumping that is anticipated when the US tariffs come into force, Canada has announced that it will be offering extra powers for border security checks to crack down on cheap steel. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of this policy? (904673)

I rather feel that I answered this question earlier. The EU will look to see whether we need to introduce safeguarding measures as a consequence of any diversion. We are working closely with our European partners to assess what the potential may be and what the joint EU response would need to be consequently.

T6. The Secretary of State has recently returned from Hong Kong and mainland China. Now that we are leaving the EU customs union and single market, what more trade can we do with these countries to ensure that our businesses are not left worse off? (904676)

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that at the festival of innovation last week we had 284 UK businesses and seven universities with us, all of which were able to discuss future partnerships and sponsorships. There was a very warm welcome, and we actually began the initial discussions with the Government of Hong Kong about entering into a future trade agreement on services.

T5. Given the less than successful outcome of the recent negotiations on behalf of UK fishermen, what hope and reassurances can the Secretary of State provide for farmers such as those in my constituency that future negotiations will make them better off outside the EU? (904675)

The best hope for British farmers is to be set free from the constraints of the common agricultural policy and to start to produce for export markets. There is a huge demand out there for UK food produce. The high standards that we have in this country, which we will maintain, are in themselves a kitemark for British produce.

At a recent Public Accounts Committee hearing, the permanent secretary at the Department for International Trade confirmed that although there are eight regional offices for the Department in England, there are none in Scotland. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to discuss adequate resourcing for the DIT in Scotland?

I met our DIT staff in Glasgow relatively recently. The point is that the Department for International Trade is a UK Department. It is there to help the trading interests, export interests and inward investment interests of the whole of the United Kingdom. Trade is a reserved matter.

T7. The north-east is a net gainer from the EU, and 60% of our exports are to EU countries, but the region is set to be worst off after Brexit. How will the Department make sure we do not lose out as part of the Government’s global north vision? (904677)

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said, we are working for all parts of the United Kingdom, by working with DExEU on our future trading relationships with the European Union and, as importantly, making sure that we open up trading possibilities beyond the EU. I mentioned earlier that we have 14 trade working groups working with major markets, and exports from the north-east will be right at the centre of that work.

The liquid gold that is Scotch whisky is a major export good for our economy, but so far in the EU negotiations we are still not getting clarity on geographical indications, which many other drinks benefit from as well. When will we get clarity on GI for Scotch whisky and other drinks that we enjoy?

It always comes round to whisky at some point in these discussions on a Thursday morning. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government accepted that we would roll over the EU treaties that exist at the present time, including those on GIs. It is a pity that he voted against that in the House of Commons.

The ceramics industry stands ready to play its part in helping to boost global exports from the UK, but the reciprocal arrangement we need for that is protection from Chinese dumping of tiles and tableware. Will the Secretary of State ask his Cabinet colleagues to look favourably on the amendments that I have tabled to the customs Bill, which would ensure that the protections we currently have in Europe were written into British law?

The hon. Gentleman is right about his amendments, but his party voted against setting up the trade remedies authority that would implement them. He cannot have it both ways.

The African continental free trade area agreement was recently signed. Will the Secretary of State assure me that economic development and fair trade will be at the heart of the free trade agreements he looks for?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is very important that we tie together better than we have in the past our trade policy and our development policy. The Secretary of State for International Development and I will be making some announcements on exactly how we can do that, and we will be discussing at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting with some of the relevant trade partners exactly how we can make that happen.

The EU has around 60 trade agreements with third countries. How many trade agreements with those countries does the Secretary of State estimate will have been agreed by December 2020?

We hope all of them, but that means we have to transition them into UK law, which of course the hon. Lady voted against.