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Trade Deals with Developing Countries

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

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.