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Trade and Investment: Switzerland

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 14 March 2019

How are you, Mr Speaker? It has been so long.

I met with Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin during my visit to Switzerland in February. Together we signed the UK-Switzerland trade agreement. This was an important moment, ensuring continuity of a trading relationship worth over £32 billion in 2017.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Recently we had the brilliant ambassador for Switzerland, Ambassador Fasel, visit my constituency looking at the potential for greater trade opportunities between our great countries. Can the Secretary of State clarify this point? He talks about continuity and I welcome the agreement he has signed but, on post-Brexit trading opportunities, the United Kingdom has identified the United States, Australia, New Zealand and trans-Pacific as key priorities. Can he confirm that Switzerland—our bilateral trade totals over £34 billion—will always be a key priority, certainly in looking forward to enhancing sectors such as finance and IT?

The countries my hon. Friend mentions are for new free trade agreements, whereas of course the agreement with Switzerland was a continuity agreement. In fact, it was an unusual agreement because, rather than being a single agreement to roll over, there were some 58 different ones. It was to the tremendous credit of the Swiss Government that they were able to carry out that work as expeditiously as they did and we owe them a great deal of gratitude.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the Swiss deal is a tiny deal—nothing wrong with it, but it is tiny? Could we have a list of all the trade deals he has secured across the piece because, as I have been tracking them, they are very small indeed? May I also tell the Secretary of State that it was not his finest hour last night when he did not have the courage to take an intervention from the Father of the House?

Sometimes one wonders how small people can actually become in this House of Commons. The Swiss deal is not small, it is not insignificant; it is worth over £32 billion a year. Switzerland is Britain’s seventh biggest trading partner globally. The hon. Gentleman should know that.

I do not want to invest levity into these important proceedings, but equally one must not lose one’s sense of humour. That £32 billion volume of trade with Switzerland is very important, but I always say the best thing about Switzerland is not its watches, its financial services or its chocolate; the best thing about Switzerland is Roger Federer.

I must say that I am tempted to answer questions this morning due to the constitutional innovation of Ministers no longer having to resign when they disagree with Government policy, but I will ask this one. Trade with Switzerland represents about 21% of all the trade of all the countries that have the continuity agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it shows the growing success of this programme and the importance of ensuring that we have those trade agreements in place in the event of a Brexit without a deal later this month?

I half-expected to see my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench with us this morning given the turn of events, but he is absolutely right that this is an important agreement. Over 20% of all the trade done under EU trade agreements is represented by Switzerland.

Mr Speaker, it is unlike me to disagree with you, but I do wonder whether on the morning after Roger Federer has defeated Kyle Edmund it is not a touch unpatriotic to be quite so pro-Swiss.

The Secretary of State may have heard an exchange a couple of days ago in which my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats highlighted the fact that, in the existing EU-Swiss trade deal, 19 technical standards have been brought in in common, whereas under the current UK-Swiss trade deal, only five technical standards have been brought in in common. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of that on UK business?

There are a number of technical interactions and some small technical issues that we shall continue to talk to the Swiss Government about. Of course the trade agreement itself is, we hope, a precursor to a further bespoke agreement as we leave the EU.

My understanding is that, of the 40 potential continuity agreements, five represent 76% of the total trade, of which Switzerland is one. Is not that a good omen for the remaining big four?

Of course a number of those who are engaged in trade continuity discussions with the UK are waiting to see what we will do in terms of Britain’s approach to the EU. They will be much more likely to sign up to those agreements when this House of Commons is clear about what it is going to do.