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Future Trade Agreements

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018

5. What steps he plans to take to ensure that future trade agreements deliver economic benefits to all constituent nations and regions of the UK; and if he will he make a statement. (908322)

This Government are committed to working closely with all nations and regions to deliver a future trade policy that works for the whole of the UK, and we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations. I visited Cardiff on 15 October, where I discussed this topic with Assembly Members. The Board of Trade will also ensure that the benefits of free trade are spread throughout the UK.

A very merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. However, will he elaborate on his work with the Welsh Government to ensure that when trade agreements are made, regional investment happens across the south Wales valleys, north Wales and mid Wales and benefits the whole of Wales rather than focusing, for example, on cities, so that valley communities like mine can really benefit from the economic development that comes from trade agreements?

We are currently working on a concordat with the Welsh Government, through which they can contribute directly to the process for free trade agreements. I would expect them to make those points to us and tell us where the industries that matter to them are. We can therefore construct our free trade policies around that input.

Increased trade inevitably leads to more business for our major ports, such as Immingham in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that free trade zones and free ports are worthy of serious consideration post-Brexit?

All I can say at the moment is that anything that can be done to increase free trade in the future should be looked at. Indeed, free ports have been looked at and I know that my hon. Friend has been a great champion of the idea. We will continue those discussions.

Supporting our regional economies through trade agreements is about more than just growing exports and opening markets to our producers; trade agreements should also be used to unlock and encourage investment across the UK. A recent report by the Centre for Towns shows that in 2017 nearly 60% of foreign direct investment went to the UK’s biggest cities, that 70% of that went to London, and that towns and communities elsewhere have seen FDI decline or remain flat. When will the Government listen to Labour and take the action needed to rebalance the economy and attract FDI right across the country?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and, indeed, the whole Labour Front-Bench team for our associations and discussions during the year, which have, on the whole, been friendly and constructive.

The hon. Lady will be glad to hear that the Government absolutely understand the issue. Our foreign direct investment programme has begun to look at pre-packaging offers out in the regions, particularly in smaller towns, which quite a lot of major potential investors will not know of—they will not know about the skillsets there or about the availability of land and so on. They have been pre-packed into larger blocks so that foreign direct investors can be presented with them as places where they can take their investment outside London and the major cities.