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Topical Questions

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 7 February 2019

My departmental responsibilities are to have foreign and inward direct investment, to establish an independent trade policy and to promote the United Kingdom’s exports. I am pleased to announce to the House this morning that UK Export Finance will provide £49 million of support for Darlington-based firm Cleveland Bridge to construct 250 bridges for rural Sri Lankan communities.

International trade is a reserved power. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to engage MPs in the devolved nations to ensure both that they are helping to form policy and that the DIT is properly resourcing devolved nations?

My hon. Friend is right that trade is a reserved power, but we work with parliamentarians across the House through our regular briefings with MPs, which MPs from all parties attend, our international events programme, online services and the Board of Trade, which I established, to ensure that the benefits of trade are equally felt across all the parts of the United Kingdom.

Many British companies are currently part of trade disputes put forward by the EU at the World Trade Organisation. After 29 March they will be able to continue those disputes, utilising the evidence already submitted, but only if the Government accept a regional approach of 27 plus one countries, which is specifically allowed for under WTO rules. That would avoid the time and cost for businesses and for the taxpayer of having to resubmit evidence in a separate case. Why have the Government refused to adopt that simple solution? Why will they not support British business and ensure that trade disputes do not drag on for longer and at far greater cost than absolutely necessary?

We will not want to see trade disputes drag on longer than necessary, and we will want to co-operate with our European partners in that regard. Of course, the best way to ensure that we have the highest level of co-operation on the disputes that are currently under way is to agree to the Prime Minister’s deal.

T2. What progress on trade reform and WTO reform was made at the recent World Economic Forum annual meeting? In particular, was consideration given to continuity arrangements with countries such as Turkey so that Ford engines can continue to be fitted to Ford Transits built in Turkey? (909099)

A number of issues were discussed with Trade Ministers in Davos, including those of continuity. They also included how complex global value chains will be dealt with in the future, because, as my right hon. Friend has said, when the WTO was created the global economy was not so dependent on them. We need to look at how we deal with the question of tariffs and multiple, repeated taxation in industries such as the car industry.

I call Lloyd Russell-Moyle. Not here—where is the fella? I hope that he is not indisposed; that would be most unfortunate. Well, who is here? Nic Dakin is here.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The steel industry is confronted with the possibility that the trade defence instruments currently in place at European level to prevent Chinese dumping will not come forward at UK level. We also face having to compete against quotas to sell steel into the EU when we are outside the EU. What is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that that does not happen?

I can say straightforwardly that the anti-subsidy and anti-dumping measures that are currently in place in the EU have been widely consulted on with British industry, and particularly with the steel sector, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. We will be transitioning the measures that are important to those industries. The same process has been gone through for safeguarding, and the same result will occur.

Will the ministerial team update us on progress in seeking continuity of some of the other EU trade agreements, particularly those in Canada and in Africa, many of which, of course, the Opposition opposed in the first place?

I simply say what I have said to the House on a number of occasions: we are making good progress on many of those agreements. I have already signed three of them very recently and deposited them with the House. We will continue to update the House as progress is made, and we will bring forward a report in the next week or two, which will help elucidate the matter further.

T4. Employment rights are human rights, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that no trade agreement is signed that undermines our standards in employment rights, health and safety rights and equality rights? (909104)

We set out in the trade agreement that this House supported on Canada the non-regression clauses that said we would not water down labour rights or environmental standards, or give away Government control on public service regulation, in order to reach agreement. I supported that and my colleagues supported that in the House, but the Labour party voted against it; I do not understand why.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on what progress the Government have made on advancing food and drink exports, and particularly on getting some of our exporting countries to reduce their tariffs?

Food and drink is one of this country’s most successful export sectors, but a lot of areas of it, particularly those such as spirits—I had discussions with the Scotch Whisky Association just a couple of nights ago—face very high tariffs in countries such as India and Brazil. They are enormous markets for us, but we face disproportionate tariffs, and that is one of the key areas where we seek unilateral reform in such countries so that they can show that they are genuinely committed to free trade.

The Secretary of State has shared with business a progress report on trade deals. I have been trying to obtain that information from him for months; is he willing to share that information with Members of the House as well as with business?

I dealt with this extensively at the International Trade Committee yesterday; the right hon. Gentleman might have wanted to attend.

Can the Secretary of State update the House on the ongoing trade negotiations and discussions he is having with the United States Administration, not least because the US is our single largest export market?

Our working group with the United States on future trade has met a number of times. There is broad agreement that we should have a free trade agreement with the United States. That would open up huge possibilities for the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of talk in the news this week about the ceramics industry; it would benefit from a free trade agreement with the United States, not least by the removal of the 27% tariffs that it currently faces for UK exports.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on signing a trade agreement with the Faroe Islands? Those must have been tough negotiations. Is he seeking an extension to article 50 to complete the negotiations on the 40 trade deals he promised us he would sign?

The hon. Gentleman mocks the agreement with the Faroe Islands; how typical that is of the Labour party when so many jobs in the fishing and fish processing industry are dependent upon it. He may want to know that when I go to Switzerland on Monday I will be signing the largest of the EU agreements of all. [Interruption.]

Order. Before we move on, as Humphrey Bogart said,

“I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself”,

but just because the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) is sporting a rather splendid and garish Bogart tie, that does not mean that he should descend to that level himself. [Interruption.] He is chuntering from a sedentary position with predictable regularity—

The hon. Gentleman says his constituents have a particular view about the Secretary of State; that is quite possible. The Secretary of State’s constituents might have a particular view about the hon. Gentleman, too—who knows?