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Free Trade Promotion

Volume 641: debated on Thursday 17 May 2018

The UK champions the opportunities created by free trade. As I said in my lecture at Speaker’s House last month, free trade increases prosperity, stability and, in turn, security. My Department engages businesses and the public to set out the economic and moral case for free trade: better UK jobs, consumer access to high-quality, well-priced goods and services, and lifting people in the developing world out of poverty.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Forecasts suggest that 90% of economic growth in the coming years will be in countries outside the EU. Does he agree that that gives this country great opportunities to extend our trade with developing nations, which will be of great benefit to them?

I agree with my hon. Friend that that provides enormous opportunities. Free trade has helped to lift more than 1 billion people out of poverty since 1990, and we will do all we can to continue to support the liberalisation of trade with developing countries. Indeed, we demonstrated that commitment by announcing £18 million to support the WTO’s enhanced integration framework in December at Buenos Aires.

A slightly surprising grouping, Mr Speaker. Does the Secretary of State agree that the public might be even more strongly in favour of free trade if they are completely convinced that the right remedies are in place for goods that come from countries that are perhaps not quite as keen on free trade as we are? The ceramics industry, for example, has a big base in my constituency, so will he ensure that, when we import products from countries that have a state-distorted market, the right powers are in place in the Bill?

I am grateful for the support that my hon. Friend gives to the ceramics industry. It is, of course, necessary to have an international rules-based system. Where we have problems with that, it is our duty to try to improve it, not to try to break or leave the system.

What optimistic free trade message is the Secretary of State going to give to Welsh hill farmers or Suffolk sugar beet growers?

The same message that I would give to everybody: free trade is of benefit to consumers and producers alike in the UK and to our trading partners. As I said, it has been one of the main tools through which we have alleviated global poverty.

One thing that free trade depends on is investment. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to promote outward direct investment by the UK to help those countries with which we would like to engage in greater free trade?

The Government have recently completed a number of pilot projects on outward direct investment, and ODI can be a major adjunct to our development agenda. I recently visited a Jaguar Land Rover dealership in Johannesburg. It is not only promoting the sale of UK goods abroad, but providing apprenticeships in mechanics and salesmanship for some of the most deprived young people in Johannesburg. Trade and development can go hand in hand.

Those who advocate protectionism often claim that free trade means a free-for-all. It is not. May I urge the Secretary of State to make it clear that free trade means trading within the rule of law, with clear remedies to the benefit of everyone?

The WTO and the rules-based system is under attack, it has to be said, today. If the WTO did not exist we would have to invent it. There is a need for a rules-based system, otherwise we would have a free-for-all. The alternative to a rules-based system is a deals-based system, which might be fine for some of the biggest economies but would not help many of the smaller developing economies. It is our moral duty to ensure that there is fair play across trade.