Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 15 November 2018

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy and export promotion. Later today, the Board of Trade will meet in Wales for the first time in history, jointly hosted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. As the President of the Board of Trade, I can today announce a £240 million investment drive in Wales, which will create thousands of jobs. The Board of Trade will also today announce the launch of the UK’s first energy investment portfolio, worth an estimated £5 billion.

Exporting companies in my constituency have told me that the Trade Secretary actually asked to meet them, but on condition that they did not discuss Brexit. Even more ludicrously, the Brexit Secretary—not the one who has just resigned, but the one who resigned before that—also said he wanted to meet them, but on the same condition. It is only £1 to go over Clifton suspension bridge from the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency into Bristol. If I offer to pay that quid for him, will he come to Bristol and tell our exporting companies what the hell is going on?

The companies in Bristol seem to know already what is going on, without requiring any contribution from the hon. Lady—financial or otherwise. They are not only creating huge numbers of jobs, but are among the best export hubs in the whole of the United Kingdom, showing excellence in whole areas from the creative industries to aerospace. She need not worry too much.

T3. Will my right hon. Friend inform the House what plans his Department has to support Small Business Saturday? (907626)

There are a number of events up and down the country. I will be hosting events in my own constituency, using the export hub. A number of Members will already have used the hub in their own constituencies. This is a great initiative, and it is a chance for MPs of all parties to show just how much support they give to small businesses. I know that a number of MPs hosted events up and down the country last year. I will be doing so, and I urge my hon. Friend to do so, although I am sure he requires no urging whatsoever. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will use this opportunity to celebrate the success of small business.

T2. A few days ago I met the ambassador of a very large country in the far east. The UK is his country’s trade gateway to the European Union, but clearly it will no longer be that after we have left. How will the Secretary of State safeguard existing business and trade with that country? (907625)

We have set out our export and investment strategy, and we are one of the few countries in the world that are seeing a rise in investment at a time when foreign direct investment is dropping by 41%. We currently have one of the biggest increases in exports, and our trade policy and new system of trade commissioners will ensure increased levels of contact with Governments in all countries, including the one that the right hon. Gentleman failed to tell us the name of.

T5. Will the Minister update the House on what further steps are being taken to enable future trade deals? (907628)

As my hon. Friend will know, the Government have outlined to the House the progress that new free trade deals will make, and consultations on four potential deals were in the public realm from July to October. Those potential deals include the US, Australia, New Zealand and the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and we are currently in the process of analysing the extensive responses that we received.

T4. European and British companies trading lawfully with Iran may soon face sanctions from the Trump regime, which has withdrawn from the Iran deal. When that happens, will the Secretary of State stand up for British companies, or will he cave in to Trump? (907627)

The United Kingdom is committed to the joint comprehensive plan of action, and we want Iran to derive the economic benefits of that agreement. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are two particular difficulties for British companies. One is access to finance for doing business in Iran, and the second is that it is often difficult for companies to know who the end point they are dealing with is, and whether they may in fact be part of the regime that would require sanctions to be applied. We work with British businesses to try to help them, but we understand that it is a real minefield.

T7. Small and medium-sized businesses often find it difficult to export because of the rules and regulations in many of the countries they export to. What more help can my right hon. Friend’s Department give to those companies to get access to those markets? Growing our exports is great for our economy. (907631)

My hon. Friend makes a useful point, and we have identified 400,000 businesses that could be exporting but do not because of their fear, or lack of understanding, of the markets to which they would export, and their cultural and regulatory frameworks. That is why we have established the framework of our trade commissioners around the world, and why we have put members of UK Export Finance in those markets, so that they can gain expertise in the financial areas that companies will enter, and will be there to advise companies in those markets.

The north-east is the only region in the country that still exports more than it imports. That involves large companies such as Nissan, as well as many great small start-ups and businesses that cannot afford expensive lawyers or management consultants. What specific guidance is available to those companies on how to continue and increase trading post-Brexit?

That is why we have the export strategy and we have worked with industry, which has been welcomed by small business groups and others. With staff in 108 countries around the world, and our regional and sector teams, we are working harder than ever before to ensure that the information flow, and the advice and opportunities for small businesses, is advertised in a better and more effective way than ever before. [Interruption.] Despite the hon. Lady’s laughter, that is why last year our exports grew by more than 10% to £617 billion, and they are now more than £630 billion and counting.