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Topical Questions

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

My Department has responsibility for exports, inward and outward investment, and trade policy. I am delighted to announce that on my recent visit to China, I received approval from the Chinese Government to ease restrictions on the import of UK dairy products. That will be worth a quarter of a billion pounds over the next year and will be of particular benefit to Northern Ireland. I congratulate the many people involved in that effort, including my officials and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Such success shows the benefit of collective effort, and I look forward to similar collaboration to support British companies to secure business around the world.

Later today, I will travel to the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

Given that more than 60% of the north-east’s exports go to the EU, what preparations have the Secretary of State and his Department made for there being no Brexit deal, which could lead to firms in the north-east being hit with tariffs of up to 80% overnight?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have already published a number of papers in preparation for no deal. I have just left a Cabinet meeting, to which I shall return later, at which we are looking into that very subject. The best thing that we can do is to get an effective comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union so that all the countries of Europe—the EU27 and the UK—can continue to get the benefits of free and open trade.

T2. As chair of the all-party group on the furniture industry, I welcome the publication of the Government’s export strategy and draw my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s attention to the Long Point exhibition that will take place in my constituency next week. The exhibition acts as the global shop front for quality upholstery manufacturing. Will the Minister outline what plans the Government have in their export strategy to support the furniture industry to increase exports once we have left the EU? (906905)

There is no greater parliamentary champion of the furniture industry than my hon. Friend—I am delighted to congratulate her on that. For businesses and sectors of all sizes, the export strategy sets out a new UK export challenge, a smarter offer to help them to export, and a new framework to maximise our impact. The Long Point exhibition in my hon. Friend’s constituency next week will be another excellent opportunity for her and us to promote the furniture industry.

What proposals has the Secretary of State made to his counterparts ahead of this weekend’s G20 ministerial meeting to avert the threat by the President of the United States to pull the United States out of the World Trade Organisation, and to ensure that the WTO can continue to function despite America’s refusal to approve appointments to the WTO’s appellate body—or has he made no proposals?

I have had conversations with a number of my trade colleagues from Japan, Mexico and Canada all ahead of the G20 meeting. That is a very good opportunity for us to recommit ourselves to the concept and practice of free and open trade and the rules-based system based on the WTO in Geneva. We should be pointing out that protectionism has never ended well, and that the benefits that we have introduced in terms of the elimination of poverty and the support for our global security agenda are based on free trade. It is also worth saying that the alternative to a rules-based system is a deals-based system, which would upset the balance of global trade. Incidentally, let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that he will find that the power to withdraw from the WTO is not a presidential power, but one that would require approval by Congress in law.

T3. Africado is Tanzania’s biggest exporter of avocados, exporting more than 2,500 tonnes a year to British supermarkets such as Waitrose and Tesco. The project, which was kickstarted by UK aid, has transformed an abandoned coffee plantation into a thriving business that employs 2,000 farmers. Following on from the Prime Minister’s visit to Africa, what steps have Ministers taken to improve trading relationships with emerging markets? (906906)

I thank my hon. Friend for her very encouraging story from Tanzania. Britain is, of course, an international leader on development and my Department is working with the Department for International Development to ensure that global prosperity is at the heart of future policy. Our first priority is to deliver continuity in our trading relationships as we leave the EU. In the future, the Government will explore options to expand our relations with developing countries. DIT will be focusing on unilateral preference schemes and schemes to help to break down barriers to trade that exist in many countries.

T4. Trade statistics published last week by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show an increase of £643 million in Wales’s exports to the EU over the past year. The data also shows a decrease of £32 million in exports to non-EU countries. Is not the reality that the best opportunities for Welsh exporters in the future lie with staying in the single market and the customs union? (906907)

As I have already pointed out, it is advantageous for us to have an open, liberal comprehensive trading deal with the European Union, but it is also important that we open up trading opportunities elsewhere, which was why I found it utterly depressing that the Labour party voted yesterday against the EU’s free trade agreement with Singapore, which is a chance generally to open up trade. That is another example of how the Labour party has been captured by the anti-trade hard left to the detriment of the United Kingdom’s interests.

T6. ARC Marine and Artificial Reef Construction Company will be the first recipients of a Torbay Development Agency trade bursary to support their ambitions to export. What role does my right hon. Friend see for this type of work at a local level in promoting exports, and how can his Department help to support it? (906909)

At a general level, joining up across Government and working with local partners to help businesses to overcome trade barriers is a key principle in the Government’s export strategy. I am encouraged that joint working between the Torbay Development Agency and my Department will allow ARC Marine to visit the wind summit in Hamburg in September. That is another good example of how collaboration can help local businesses.

T5. According to the Department’s annual report, the team in the north-west has among the lowest job creation numbers for the whole of England. What more can be done to boost exports from the north-west? (906908)

I think that it is in line with our ambitions elsewhere. Businesses themselves were very clear. They wanted us to inform them better, so we have upgraded our website. They wanted better encouragement from their peers, so we have set up a new online community to ensure that that can be done. They wanted better finance, which is why we have been improving links between UK Export Finance and small and medium-sized companies. They wanted better connectivity, which is why we have now published, in advance on our website, where Ministers will be visiting. That means that companies looking for market access, or indeed getting a deal over a line, can know when Ministers will be visiting and ensure that they are in contact with us.

T7. We have a thriving local economy in Corby and East Northampton- shire, a large share of which is driven by small and medium-sized enterprises. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to help them to export more, particularly to the United States? (906910)

My hon. Friend asks two questions, the second of which is about our relationship with the United States. In our working group, we have had specifically dedicated discussions about how we might help SMEs on both sides of the Atlantic to improve that trade. Of course, one of the key elements of that is UK Export Finance. I am very pleased to say that, in a real change from previous practice, last year around 78% of the contracts that UK Export Finance placed were with SMEs. That is a real change that makes a difference to real businesses.

T8. In 2016, according to Office for National Statistics figures, UK services exported to the EU and European Free Trade Association countries were worth £105.5 billion. What plans do the Government have to secure EU and EFTA export markets for UK services in the event of a no-deal Brexit? (906911)

That is a very interesting question. Our services exports to the world’s most open market—the United States—comprise 65% of our exports. For non-EU countries, the figure is about 50%, and for the EU itself, it is only 38%. In the future, I would like to ensure that our services exporters are given the free access to European markets that they can currently take advantage of outside Europe.

As the Secretary of State knows, the UK is the largest investor in Tanzania, a proud Commonwealth nation to which I have just been appointed trade envoy. Will he be good enough to outline what Her Majesty’s Government will do to strengthen that relationship as we leave the European Union?

I welcome my hon. Friend to his post as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Tanzania and wish him luck. As the Prime Minister made clear on the visit on which I joined her at the end of August, partnerships based on mutual interest are key to the UK’s offer. The presence of a proactive Department for International Trade and broader prosperity team, and UK Export Finance’s risk appetite of £750 million for Tanzania, further show that commitment. We are working with the Department for International Development to align trade and investment policies throughout Africa and the developing world.

A report from the University of Sussex three days ago identified that a third of UK exporting firms have lost business due to Brexit. How will the export strategy help to secure existing jobs in export?

As usual, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have overlooked the fact that UK exports rose to a record £429 billion in the 12 months ending in July 2018. We are witnessing a very strong UK export performance, and the Government aim to see that continue by achieving a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU, and taking advantage of market liberalisation and new free trade agreements elsewhere. The Government are committed to that process; I just wish that we had seen more commitment to it from the Opposition this week in Parliament.

Fifty-one per cent. of the north-west’s goods exports go to non-EU countries, which is hugely important for Greater Manchester. What discussions has the Mayor of Greater Manchester had with the Department about Greater Manchester’s trade strategy as we leave the EU?

I am happy to have discussions with a range of stakeholders, including the Mayors, local enterprise partnerships and any other parts of government infra- structure. I am happy to have a meeting with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, but I have not yet had a request for a meeting following my letter to him in July 2017. I am perfectly open to making my diary available.