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EU Trade Agreements

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018

1. What estimate he has made of the number of trade agreements that the UK is party to as a result of its membership of the EU that would be rolled over on exit day in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (908317)

6. Which countries that the EU has a trade agreement with have notified his Department of restrictions on their ability to offer the same terms in a future trade agreement with the UK. (908324)

We will replicate existing EU free trade agreements and their preferential effects with partner countries as far as possible, while making the technical changes needed to ensure that agreements can operate in a bilateral context. We will inform Parliament and the public when agreements have been signed.

First, I wish you, Mr Speaker, other Members and staff a very merry Christmas.

I would like to do something that I do not often do: thank the Secretary of State, his Ministers and his staff for organising a very helpful series of all-party briefings to Members. They are very welcome and informative.

The Secretary of State will know that as a result of our EU membership, we have 35 free trade agreements in place, 48 partly in place, 22 pending, and 100 sectoral arrangements with the US that go beyond World Trade Organisation rules. I would like to hear the Secretary of State say precisely when he expects all those to be rolled over.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. It has been extremely useful to have been able to raise, across the House, the understanding of complex trade issues that have not always been within the UK Government’s remit in recent years.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, there are a number of agreements. My Department is responsible for some of them, some are the responsibility of the Department for International Development, and some are the responsibility of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—they cut right across the whole Government. We are making very good progress across a whole range of them. Of course, we have now initialled the first of those major trade agreements, with Switzerland, which is responsible for almost a fifth of the total trade within those agreements. Others will follow. The discussions are very often commercially quite sensitive, so we will inform the House when we have signed agreements, and not before.

Mr Speaker, like the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), I wish you, the staff, Ministers and everybody else a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Have any countries indicated a preference for the UK delaying Brexit without a deal?

Not directly in the discussions that I have had with other countries, but there is clearly a desire to have an agreement, so that there is time during the transition of these agreements before they become a more bespoke relationship. The two-year implementation period set out in the Government’s proposals would enable that, so that is clearly preferable for both sides.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that if we leave with no deal, the sun will still rise on 30 March, Britain will remain a premier global trading nation and the current booms in exports and inward investment are set to continue?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his usual patriotic and optimistic tone. He is right that the country is in the middle of an export boom; our exports are at an all-time high. In the first six months of the year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the United Kingdom was second only to China in inward investment. It is truly a very positive picture, and we will be able to build on that, whatever our relationship with the European Union.

On behalf of our Front Benchers, may I extend Christmas greetings, particularly to the Secretary of State and his team? Mr Speaker, in Prayers this morning, your chaplain referred to the perseverance of the wise men; I think we all need that.

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of potential trade partners being unwilling to conclude new roll-over agreements with the UK because of most favoured nation clauses in agreements that they have concluded with other countries, to which they are unwilling to give the same trade preferences as they do to the EU? I am thinking of countries such as Singapore, which might be unwilling to give other Trans-Pacific Partnership countries the same access to their telecoms market that the EU has enjoyed.

We discuss matters with other countries on a case-by-case basis. None of them has said to us that they do not want to continue to have an agreement with the United Kingdom; that is entirely understandable, as we are the world’s fifth biggest economy. Where we are able to translate elements into a bilateral context, we are doing so. We are working through those agreements. We are making good progress, and I will report to the House as and when each of them is signed.