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Export Strategy

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

I would like to thank my noble Friend Baroness Fairhead for all her hard work in driving forward the launch of the Government’s export strategy, in her role as Minister for Trade and Export Promotion. We launched the Government’s export strategy on 21 August. The strategy has four pillars—encourage, inform, connect and finance. Our ambition is simple: it is for the UK to be a 21st-century exporting superpower.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks. How will the strategy help increase exports in the aviation, defence and aerospace industries, which are so crucial to Farnborough in my constituency?

My hon. Friend, who is a very strong advocate for those sectors, makes a good point. They are strong export sectors for the UK, and the Government’s export strategy will build on their success, further encouraging and assisting companies to export. We will do so by providing more information and connections to overseas markets, supporting companies at overseas events and providing better access to export finance.

The overall growth in the value of UK exports is strong, but the growth in the number of companies starting to export is not so strong. Will my right hon. Friend advise what he is doing to help companies start exporting for the first time?

My hon. Friend, as usual, makes a telling point. I congratulate businesses up and down the country who export their goods and services overseas, but our survey suggests that some 20% of companies could be exporting at the present time but do not. That is around 400,000 companies whose export potential is not being fully realised. My message to those who could export but do not is to look at the success of our current exporters—if they can, so can you.

The north-east is the only region that exports more than it imports. Employers, employees, trade associations and trade unions all agree that a no deal Brexit will destroy jobs. What is the Secretary of State doing specifically to protect north-east businesses from a no deal Brexit, and to ensure that we continue to export successfully around the world?

What the Government are doing is to try to ensure that we get a good deal with the European Union—a free, open, comprehensive trade deal that enables our businesses to continue to trade with the substantial market that is the European Union.

Many small businesses in my constituency tell me that they have never exported outside the European Union and do not have plans in place—particularly in relation to a no deal Brexit, if that was to happen—for how they would export outside the EU. They do not have people who are experts in customs arrangements outside the EU. What practical help can the Minister give to small businesses, to ensure that they can trade outside the EU?

That is a very useful point. Members of the House who have used the export hub and had the export hub visit their constituency have seen the benefits of the very practical help that can be given to small businesses. We have been encouraging UK Export Finance to help more small and medium-sized enterprises trade. We have put UK Export Finance experts in the field, so that they may better understand overseas markets, regulatory frameworks and cultural issues. Our new trade commissioners around the world are there to provide better help. If the hon. Gentleman has not yet had the export hub in his constituency, if he contacts the Department we would happily arrange a time for a visit, so that small businesses in his constituency may get one-to-one advice on the opportunities and help available.

I very much welcome the export strategy, but given that international trade is a reserved matter, will my right hon. Friend look at extending his Department’s footprint north of the border, so that more Scottish businesses may take advantage?

We already have a footprint, but it is very clear, emphasising the point that my hon. Friend correctly makes, that it is a reserved matter, so it is the duty of the Government to ensure that all UK citizens, in whatever part of the kingdom they reside, have the same access to help when it comes to trade; and that is what the Department for International Trade provides.

The Federation of Small Businesses describes the export strategy as lacking “definitive detailed interventions”. The Secretary of State would do well to take note of what the FSB says. SMEs are vital to our export success, so I suggest, before he gets carried away by his own complacency, why not listen to what small businesses are saying?

We spend a great deal of time doing so, and in fact I was deeply encouraged by the welcome that we received for the export strategy from the FSB, the chambers, the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry, who do not share the Labour party’s anti-trade, anti-capitalist, anti-wealth agenda. The Labour party increasingly seems to see the model it prefers for Britain as the Venezuelan model.