Skip to main content

International Trade

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

Exports in Global Markets

Mr Speaker, before I begin, I am delighted to announce the appointment of Mark Slaughter as the Department for International Trade’s new director general for investment. Mark took up his new role this month and will lead the Department’s work on inward and outward investment.

The Department for International Trade provides support to companies in Wales and the rest of the UK through, for example, the GREAT campaign, high value campaigns, the Tradeshow Access Programme and the financial support to exporters offered by UK Export Finance.

Wrexham pharmaceutical companies, such as Wockhardt and Ipsen Biopharm, export worldwide. Does the Minister agree that it is essential to preserve regulatory alignment to allow them to continue to export and develop in new markets?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is a great champion of his local exporting businesses. We need the right arrangements going forward to support the strong export growth we have seen. He will note that, since 2010, export growth for Wales has gone up by 82%.

What direct support is being given to businesses that want to export overseas and, crucially, how is it being signposted?

The hon. Lady is right to mention the importance of ensuring that British companies know support is in place. In DIT, we have for the first time in our history a Department of State whose only job is to support international economic exports, investment and trade policy. The GREAT campaign has been very significant in promoting that and we have trade advisers throughout the country. Indeed, in Yorkshire and Humber, DIT has 33 mobile and desk-based international trade advisers, who are there explicitly to support local business and to make sure they know what we have on offer.

For the food and drink producers located in my constituency, such as the world famous Tennents brewery and Morrison Bowmore whisky distillery, international trade is an integral part of their business. Can the Minister tell us what his Department is doing to work with Scottish Development International to better promote Scottish businesses, such as the ones I have mentioned, overseas?

The hon. Gentleman is right and, along with many of his colleagues, he is a great champion of local businesses. That is why it was particularly disappointing that we saw so many of his colleagues shaking their heads in disbelief when they heard the shadow Secretary of State the other day refusing to support the EU-Canada trade deal and refusing to support the EU-Japan trade deal. He will recall that one of his colleagues said that if the Labour party is not prepared to support a deal with Trudeau’s Canada, who on earth would it support a deal with.

Although it is very welcome to see a rise in exports, Ministers know they are still coming from a relatively small proportion of British businesses. I urge him to challenge business membership bodies to ensure they put exporting at the heart of their work. We need a culture change. They have a role to play.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work he does in supporting international trade. He is absolutely right. We work closely in partnership with, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meets regularly, representative business organisations because we need to change the culture. Our assessment is that there are more British companies that could export and do not, than there are who can and do. The opportunity is there. The very welcome growth in exports over recent years is to be applauded, but there is so much more we can do by working in partnership not only with representative business organisations, but with banks.

What impact will there be on UK firms exporting around the world if the Trade Bill is not implemented before we leave the EU?

Of course, the Trade Bill is fundamental to the continuity of existing EU trade deals. It puts in place the framework to allow us to move them over from the EU to the UK. Labour failed earlier this week to support jobs, and it has repeatedly voted against the very Bill that would allow us to ensure continuation of trade.

Our exports will be more likely to prosper if reciprocal trade is not met with a common external tariff, will they not?

What my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about is that there will be real opportunities for the UK when it leaves the EU. The appetite throughout the world is first for continuity, but among so many of our existing trade partners there is also a real desire to deepen that relationship and thus support British exports in a way that, sadly, the shadow Secretary of State seems signally not to do.

It is not enough, though, simply to promote exports and global trade. They need to be facilitated, which is likely to require new trade deals with our major trading partners, such as the United States. That, however, is not without its risks. When the Minister and the Secretary of State are going about their business promoting trade and starting early discussions about a trade deal, will they make it clear from the outset that our NHS, our public services, our food hygiene rules and important geographic indicators are off limits and out of bounds?

I am happy to give those assurances, but earlier this week we saw the Scottish National party—the hon. Gentleman’s party, under his leadership in this area—vote against a deal that fully supports the continuity of existing protections. It is interesting that the Scotch Whisky Association and all the thousands who work in the Scotch whisky business strongly support that deal, whereas the SNP opposed it.

In May it was reported that the Department was to axe hundreds of jobs in trade promotion—up to 10% of the workforce. The Treasury has since hinted that additional funding is available to safeguard such jobs, but we have heard that the cuts are still happening. Surely the Secretary of State agrees that axing officials whose job is to promote British exports is not the best way to build a “global Britain”. Will he therefore confirm that his Department has not, and will not, cut those jobs?

The truth is that the Department is growing. It is less than two years old and it is building its capacity. Today I announced the appointment of a new director general for investment, we recently announced the appointment of a director general for exports, and, of course, we are soon to complete the appointments of eight HM trade commissioners around the world, who will deploy our resources to best effect.

Trade Deals with Developing Countries

2. What assessment he has made of the effect of UK trade deals with developing countries on the economies of those countries. (906136)

Freeing up trade is a proven driver of prosperity for developing countries. As we leave the EU, our priority will be to seek to deliver continuity in our trading arrangements, including continuity for developing countries.

Let me first warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box.

The EU acts as a protectionist bloc against the trading interests of developing economies. Can my hon. Friend assure me that, once we leave the EU, arranging trade deals with developing economies will be a central part of our post-Brexit arrangements?

I certainly can. The Department’s White Paper “Preparing for our future trade policy” sets out the scale of the Government’s desire to help developing countries to break down the barriers to trade, and we will give them the tools with which to trade their way out of poverty.

I am sorry that I did not spot the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), but if he wants to shoehorn his question—

I most certainly do not look for favourites, but I am always happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman, and if he wants to speak now, he can.

The hon. Gentleman can always shoehorn in his concern on any question, and the Chair is accommodating of him. I hope that his mood will improve as the day proceeds.

An important issue connected with trade deals is actually a Home Office matter, I refer to the issue of visas. Whether the trade deals are with developing countries or with Australia and New Zealand, the big thing that they talk about is not two-year visas but five-year visas. What work is the Minister doing with the Home Office to bring some sense into this area? Incidentally, that is also needed on the west coast of Scotland in relation to fishing.

The hon. Gentleman will know very well that mode 4 is applied in many circumstances, and that it was part of the Japan-EU free trade deal. Our conversations with the Home Office are ongoing, but it will always be a matter of national policy that we will control our own immigration system. Despite what is said in trade deals, that is protected.

Will the Minister confirm that, whatever agreement is or is not reached with the European Union, after Brexit this country will continue to see increased trade in goods and services with the European Union, developing countries, and other countries around the world?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Clearly, the whole purpose of our leaving the European Union, or one of the plain purposes, is to increase sovereignty and to conduct our own trade deals. We are very keen to do a good deal with Europe—to see frictionless borders and to keep trade going on that front—and indeed to seek wide and ambitious free trade deals with others.

What will the new Trade Minister do to ensure that any such trade deals with developing countries protect, promote and enhance workers’ rights, environmental protection and consumer rights, rather than engaging in a race to the bottom?

It is a feature of the free trade deal that is currently being signed by the European Union, and indeed the commitment of this Government, that chapters will be included in all those agreements that will protect exactly the elements that the hon. Lady identifies. They are in the current arrangements that we voted in favour of earlier this week and will be in future trade deals.

Does the Minister agree that the best way of getting countries out of poverty is by trade, and that that is under threat from protectionism? Does he further agree that how we vote in this House, and the measures we support in the House on extending trade, matter?

That absolutely matters; it matters fundamentally. Trade is one of the greatest promoters of prosperity on the planet. It supports more poor people into reasonable states of living across the world than almost any other policy. The Opposition voted against such a free trade deal last week—in fact, against two of them. All that can do in the long run is reduce the amount of free trade around the world.

For the last 10 to 15 minutes, Ministers at that Dispatch Box have been attacking us for voting on principle against a trade agreement the other day. I want to know how many trade deals the Government have turned down with Barnier and the rest of them across in Europe in the last 12 months. Answer!

I am very sorry to say, Mr Speaker, that I am not entirely sure that I understand the question, but I would like to correct one element of something I just said. Of course, the Opposition did not vote against both trade deals—they abstained on the Japan trade deal. I am afraid that I simply do not understand the question. All I know is that the trade deals that were voted on and passed by the House this week had elements that contained many of the protections that the Opposition have said that they want. There are chapters on labour rights and environmental standards, and there is protection for our public services, particularly the national health service, which, as I told the House on Tuesday, is protected from challenge by those agreements.

What advice does the Minister have for small and medium-sized enterprises that want to do business both inside the EU and outside it, post 29 March next year, in terms of their geographic location? Does he think it would be a good idea for businesses to be based in Northern Ireland, where they can have the best of both worlds?

A characteristic of any trade deal that we wish to do with the EU will obviously be to look at the interests of small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy. The EU-Japan trade deal that we voted for in the House on Tuesday specifically opened up the markets of Japan to smaller and medium-sized producers in the car manufacturing sector. I hope that those sorts of measures will be reflected in any deal that we do with the EU.

Business Investment Overseas

If I may, I would like to begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) for all the work that he did as our Minister of State and for helping to set up the Department. He is one of the very best Ministers that I have had the honour to work with in my whole time in this House.

Since April 2017, the Department for International Trade has actively supported UK companies, with over 50 outward direct investment deals in over 20 countries. With our help, companies from all over the UK have invested overseas in many sectors, including advanced manufacturing, infrastructure and energy.

Sussex sparkling wine is beating French champagne in Parisian wine-tasting challenges. In my constituency we have English sparkling wine producers such as Rathfinny, Ridgeview and Breaky Bottom. What steps is the Department taking to help this industry to invest and export overseas?

I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of English wines in her constituency. In fact, Aldwick Court in my own constituency makes a very fine range of wines, Mr Speaker—I will attempt to get you a bottle to prove the point. We work closely with leading industry associations and producers to help to support English wine exports. A recent example of this was the festival of innovation in March in Hong Kong. Our team in-market arranged a bespoke programme of briefings and a high-profile tasting session to introduce a delegation of UK wine and spirit producers to potential buyers from around the world, very successfully.

The Secretary of State may not be aware of the input of a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister on this matter, but Lakeland Dairies in my constituency is attempting to secure Chinese business but is having some difficulty due to red tape. What support is available to help businesses across the language and cultural divide, and to gain results that benefit us all and in particular Lakeland Dairies in my constituency?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been a number of questions about the ease of doing business in China and market access has been one of the questions raised. A new trade commissioner has been appointed, Richard Burn, in China, and our team will work continually with the Chinese Government to try to remove some of the barriers. If companies in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency face specific problems, I will be delighted to meet him to try to resolve them.

Last month, the Department’s roadshow that encourages small businesses to invest overseas and export visited Immingham in my constituency, and it was greatly valued by local businesses. Does the Department plan to continue and expand that roadshow?

Of course, we will continue to do that; it is a very successful programme. But perhaps more usefully we can help to get small businesses the finance they require to get into the exporting business. Last year, in a change from the previous pattern, 78% of all the UK export finance agreements were done with small and medium-sized enterprises in this country.

Tariffs in general are one of the areas we want to be able to look at when we leave the European Union. Of course the setting of tariffs is a legal power that we do not yet have. To be able to take full advantage of alternatives—reductions in tariffs, for example—this House will have to pass the customs Bill, which is coming back shortly. I hope that we can count on the hon. Gentleman’s support on that.

Our proceedings would be incomplete and underperforming without a question from Mr Barry Sheerman.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

May I ask the Secretary of State if he is not being a little complacent about the role of China in our manufacturing and other sectors? Does he realise that, when we encourage companies to export, some of the companies, like Syngenta in my constituency, are wholly owned by ChemChina and wholly owned subsidiaries of the communist Government in China? There is a greater number of British companies owned by the Chinese. Does that alter the sort of conversation he has with them?

We believe in an open, liberal, global economy and, if we want to own companies overseas, countries overseas have to be able to own companies in this country. That is part of a liberal trading system, but that system requires a proper system of rules. That is why the World Trade Organisation needs to be strengthened and in some areas needs to be reformed, to ensure we have a global trading system that is fair and fit for all.

Trade and Road and Rail Infrastructure

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the potential merits for future UK trade of improved integration between road and rail infrastructure. (906138)

The Government’s transport investment strategy seeks to make Britain a more attractive place to trade and invest by improving the capacity and connectivity of Britain’s transport infrastructure. I know that, in my right hon. Friend’s own county, which has London Gateway, Tilbury and Harwich, she is a staunch campaigner for improved infrastructure and for more international trade and investment.

To thrive as a global beacon for free trade, Britain has to have world-class infrastructure, so will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State work across Government to bring in road and rail upgrades, but also the introduction of free ports and enterprise zones in order to turbocharge business, trade and investment opportunities post Brexit?

Well-connected transport infrastructure is key to our trading capability. When it comes to free ports, as my right hon. Friend knows, I am personally very well-disposed towards the concept. It is one area where we can take potential advantage when we have the freedom to do so once we have left the European Union.

If he has not already done so, will the Secretary of State raise the potential merits of Scottish inclusion in the HS2 project with the Secretary of State for Transport?

Increased transport infrastructure will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom, and I would be happy to take up the hon. Gentleman’s case with the Transport Secretary at any time.

US Tariffs: EU Countermeasures

7. What assessment he has made of the proportionality of the EU’s countermeasures to US tariffs on steel and aluminium. (906143)

While we sympathise with US concerns regarding transparency and the overproduction of steel, we continue to argue that tariffs applied under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act are not an appropriate solution for dealing with these issues. We will continue to seek a constructive, permanent resolution with the United States to avoid further escalation, which would only harm businesses, jobs and consumers in the United Kingdom and the United States.

After we have left the EU and turned our back on our trading partners, what steps will the Secretary of State’s Department take to ensure that the UK can stand up to aggressive trade practices?

Far from turning our back on any trading partners, we are seeking a full, transparent, comprehensive and liberal trading agreement with the European Union, and we will seek others. When it comes to protecting British industries, we can do that only when we have a trade remedies authority in place, and I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that he and his party voted against the Trade Bill, which establishes that authority.

The Secretary of State’s reluctance to support EU countermeasures to combat Trump’s trade war, and the Government’s opposition to every amendment that we proposed to the Trade Bill and the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, speak volumes about his Government’s true intentions. When will he give the trade remedies authority the board members it will need if it is to stand up for UK businesses and consumers? And when will he put an end to the impression that the UK’s Secretary of State would rather back Donald Trump’s policy of America first?

That question was wrong on so many issues that I do not know where to start. Rather than being against countermeasures, the United Kingdom supported the European Union—as I have done several times in this House—in saying that we believed that what the United States did was incompatible with WTO law and that we were therefore against it. And it is the height of cheek to demand that the Government should put members on a board that the Labour party tried to prevent us from establishing in the first place.

Future Trade Agreements: Parliamentary Scrutiny

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that Parliament will have a critical role to play in scrutinising the UK’s future trade deals. We will bring forward proposals in due course.

The Trade Bill in its original form grants Ministers discretionary powers that undermine Parliament’s right of scrutiny. There is no guarantee that agreements will be transposed as originally agreed by the EU, particularly in respect of quotas and tariffs. Given the oft-repeated mantra of taking back control, how can the Government justify not giving Parliament a say on these arrangements?

I know that the hon. Gentleman and others have tabled amendments to the Trade Bill. The details of our proposals on scrutiny will come forward in due course. The Government are committed to building a transparent and inclusive trade policy that is balanced against the need to ensure the confidentiality of negotiations. Any proposal that the Government bring forward will be on top of those mechanisms that are already at the disposal of Parliament. We will be consulting widely with the regions, and many of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman is articulating will be discussed in the regions of England and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Work has already commenced on talking some of these issues through with the devolved authorities.

Topical Questions

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, for establishing an independent trade policy and for export promotion. I am delighted today to announce the appointment of Natalie Black, Emma-Wade Smith and Simon Penney as our new Trade Commissioners for Asia Pacific, Africa and the middle east respectively. May I also thank my departing senior private secretary, George Thomson? We do not thank our excellent civil servants nearly enough for the job that they do.

Inasmuch as I am able to discern what it is, which the events of this week make extremely difficult, the answer would have to be no—not least because, in regard to trade, the Opposition Front Bench has become a caricature of a loony left party in seeming to regard Justin Trudeau as a lackey of global corporatism.

Ministers have made much today about the vote on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement earlier this week. I am not quite sure what they do not understand about no deal with Canada being better than a bad deal; I thought that in other areas that was actually their party policy.

I want to focus on the damning report on carbon emissions released today by the Committee on Climate Change. The Conservative Committee Chair, Lord Deben, set out a stark demand:

“Act now, climate change will not pause while we consider our options.”

In response, will the Secretary of State explain why, on the latest figures, 99.4% of the support that UK Export Finance gives to the energy sector goes to fossil fuels? Will he tell the House what steps he is now taking to redress that imbalance, to promote and support renewable energy and respect the Equator Principles, which his Department signed up to, about sustainability in global trade last year?

When I saw the hon. Gentleman stand up, my heart sank, given that this is only a 30-minute session.

We use UK Export Finance to promote a whole range of environmental and trading issues—in fact, I was in discussions with Equinor in Oslo last week about how we can use UK Export Finance to further the use and export of renewables.

T2. Following the excellent news this week that China has lifted its 20-year ban on UK beef exports, what action are Ministers taking to ensure that British farmers can make the most of this huge trading opportunity? (906147)

Like the whole House, I am sure, I am delighted that the Chinese Government have decided to lift the ban. I would like to praise my own officials in helping to do that, although it would not have been possible if the Prime Minister had not raised the issue at the highest level during her visit to China.

I will be seeing how we can take advantage of the lifting of the ban when I visit China in August for the Joint Economic and Trade Committee. I hope that in future we will be able to take delegations of UK beef producers, so that we can seek to make the most of an incredibly large potential market.

T4. The Government claim that they are aiming to promote British produce to the global market, post Brexit. On Sunday in Scotland, a strategy was launched to increase the value of fruit and vegetables to Scotland’s economy. The picking of that produce is heavily dependent on migrant labour from Europe; we simply cannot promote or export goods that are left rotting in the fields. What assurances can the Secretary of State offer this important sector that that essential labour force will be guaranteed? (906150)

The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of access to talent, both in agriculture and elsewhere. We aim to ensure that that continues after Brexit so that the enormous growth—of 70% in exports from Scotland since 2010—can continue, including that of the produce that he mentioned.

T3. Grants for trade stands at overseas exhibitions offer vital support for businesses looking to trade internationally. Will the Minister update the House on what grants might be available for the 2019 exhibition season? (906148)

The Department will provide an update on the grants available for trade show attendance in 2019-20 later this year in the context of our forthcoming export strategy. My hon. Friend has made an important point, but we must also ensure that the help we give is targeted to produce the best results, not the greatest number.

T5. The Secretary of State has previously suggested that outward direct investment is often seen as a fig leaf for outsourcing jobs and cutting costs at the expense of domestic investment in jobs. Does his Department monitor the number of jobs lost in the UK as a result of decisions to invest overseas? If so, will he tell us what they are? (906151)

I do find it strange that people think that foreign direct investment in the United Kingdom is a good thing, but that UK investment in other countries is a bad thing. Such investment is an essential part of an open trading system. It is also an important part of our development agenda. Investing and creating jobs overseas, as we saw with Jaguar Land Rover in South Africa, for example, is often one of the ways in which we can provide help for some of the poorest countries in the world.

One of our great exports is Scotch whisky, much of which is produced in my Moray constituency. What is the Department doing to ensure the geographical indication protection on Scotch whisky is maintained within the EU when we leave?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Government are seeking to ensure the continued GI protection of Scotch whisky in the EU after Brexit. Negotiations on geographical indications are continuing, and we anticipate that all current UK GIs will continue to be protected by the EU’s geographical indications scheme after Brexit.

What initial assessment have the Government made of the impact of steel tariffs on the UK industry? What support are the Government giving UK steel to mitigate the impact until the tariffs are removed?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I raised this with the EU Trade Commissioner last week. We are looking to see what impact there may be from any diversion and whether we need to introduce safeguards to protect UK steel producers. The earliest time that is likely to happen will be early to mid-July, and we are already seeing some movements that may justify it. As soon as we have the evidence to be able to justify such a decision, we will take it.

I read a fantastic Ministry of Defence document the other day that showed how the global centre of economic activity has shifted over time: 30 years ago, it was in the middle of the Atlantic; today, it is somewhere over Egypt; but in 2050 it will be somewhere around Vietnam. Is it not right, therefore, that our trade negotiations should accordingly shift south and east?

One of our reasons for introducing Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners is to ensure that the United Kingdom has the proper organisation to take advantage of those shifts in global trade. As I have previously said in the House, the International Monetary Fund has said that, in the next 10 to 15 years, 90% of growth in the global economy will be outside continental Europe. That is where the opportunities will be, and that is where we need to be, too.

Can the Trade Secretary tell us whether he intends to send the Trade Bill for Royal Assent, even if the Scottish Parliament withholds its consent from relevant clauses?

We believe that, because the Trade Bill will give continuity to British businesses, including in Scotland, and because not passing it would be detrimental to the interests of businesses, jobs and workers in Scotland, the Scottish Government will, in the end, see sense and support the Bill.