I beg to move,
That this House has considered future international trade opportunities for the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.
Leaving the European Union will provide us with a unique set of opportunities to develop trade policy. As we leave influences and restrictions put on us by the EU, we will be offered an exciting opportunity to compete more freely in global markets. That is one reason why I voted to leave the EU, and I know that was first and foremost in the minds of the 67% of my constituents in North Warwickshire and Bedworth who voted the same.
I recognise not only the opportunities but the challenges—we will face stiff competition globally—but we have to take the opportunity to ensure that the benefits of leaving the EU are fully recognised and, importantly, felt throughout the whole UK, not just in small pockets of it. I have discussed that with many businesses in my constituency and more widely in meetings here in Parliament, and I genuinely feel that we are ready and that the UK will be well placed to fulfil our huge potential.
As the Government know, according to International Monetary Fund projections, 90% of world growth is likely to come from outside the EU, so in future a greater proportion of UK trade will be with non-EU countries. That will be the case whether we are inside or outside the EU.
One initiative that preceded the referendum was the appointment of trade envoys. That had nothing to do with Brexit, but it illustrates the point about the enormous opportunity, in particular in developing markets. I happen to be trade envoy to Nigeria. Will my hon. Friend join me in saying what a wonderful job that that initiative does in helping to keep us in the forefront of international trade?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the priorities of the Department for International Trade, in co-operation with the Department for International Development, is to look at how to replicate and increase the effects of the economic partnership agreements. There are with seven in place now, and we want to extend them to 31 other countries, including African and Caribbean ones. The opportunity is certainly out there, and I agree with him wholly.
We have made a good start. The Government’s stance in the White Paper on trade was encouraging:
“When we leave the EU we will regain our independent seat at the WTO. As an independent member and one of the largest economies in the world, we will be in a position to intensify our support for robust, free and open international trade rules which work for all, and to help to rebuild global momentum for trade liberalisation.”
We are already seeing encouraging signs. According to the OECD, at the end of last year the UK’s inward investment stock was an impressive $1.89 trillion, more than double Germany’s, which stood at $920 billion. The Government have already established working groups and high-level dialogues with a range of key trade partners, including the US, Australia, China, the Gulf Co-operation Council, India, Japan and New Zealand. I commend that approach, and I know that the Department plans and will work to extend that list, continuing to increase global trading relationships.
Analysis in a report by Minnesota’s Minneapolis Fed suggests that were we to reduce trade and investment barriers with the rest of the world by 5%, we would raise UK income by between £25 billion and £30 billion per year, even taking into account possible future restrictions on trade and investment with EU. Dr Graham Gudgin, an economist at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Business Research, states:
“A smart WTO Brexit with well-designed trade, immigration, agricultural, fishing and regulatory policies would, far from being a ‘disaster’, have an excellent chance of delivering substantial long-term net benefits.”
Exciting opportunities across a wide range of sectors are open to Government as we move forward.
The hon. Gentleman must know that the most advanced example of trade liberalisation is actually the single market. Would it not therefore be better for Britain to remain a member of the single market?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that I disagree. One of the issues with the single market is freedom of movement, which was an issue in the referendum, and similarly the customs union ties our freedom of policy. Being able to develop our own wider trade policies offers far more exciting possibilities to my constituents and to businesses around the country.
Speaking of my part of the country, it is good to see that, primarily as a result of Brexit, a new strategy is forming. Traditionally, parts of the midlands have tended to work separately on their trade policies, but through initiatives such as the midlands engine they are working much more closely together, with a great sense of teamwork and unity, and more joined-up thinking to deliver a wider, more focused outlook, which is to the benefit of the midlands as a whole.
I raise my main topic today as one who was an insurance broker for more than 20 years and as chair of the all-party group for insurance and financial services. I will focus my comments on this sector, because insurance has to play a leading role in our future trade success. It is fundamental to economic improvement in every one of our constituencies, and is apparently one of the UK’s most successful export industries.
I say that insurance is important in all our constituencies because overall it employs about 300,000 people and, contrary to popular belief, two thirds of those jobs are outside London. The specialist London market itself employs about 52,000 people, but again, 17,000 of those jobs are outside London. In terms of premium income, the UK market is bigger than all the markets of its major competitors—Bermuda, Singapore and Zurich—combined. This country attracts large commercial business from more than 200 territories around the world, bringing to the UK about £65 billion of premium annually. On top of that, we have a reputation for product innovation to cover new types of risk. That is important as technology grows. Some of the products recently developed in London include cyber and data-breach insurance, stand-alone terrorist cover and natural catastrophe cover.
We cannot afford to be complacent about the industry, though. Research by the London Market Group, highlighted that premium coming from emerging markets into the UK has declined and that we face significant and growing competition from overseas, especially from markets in Bermuda, Singapore and Zurich, whose Governments support regulators that actively promote their industries and insurance markets. Meanwhile, our share of mature insurance and reinsurance markets stagnates. Asia is the highest growth market globally, and the region in which the UK lost the most ground in commercial insurance between 2013 and 2015, mainly to growing regional insurance hubs such as, again, Singapore, which had an annual growth rate of 4%.
The UK is the third biggest by value importer of food. If the United States wants access to that market, with lower quality food and hormone-impregnated beef for instance, does the hon. Gentleman think that is a permissible exchange for greater penetration for insurance and other financial products into the United States?
Although the US is one of our biggest import markets, I do not necessarily think so, because the Government have committed to maintaining high food standards. I am primarily talking about the insurance industry; I am sure the Minister can give some reassurance, but I think there is plenty of scope for us to grow imports from a whole range of countries around the world. The scope of where our imports come from seems to be very narrow.
Research published in December by the Centre for European Reform suggests that if Britain leaves the single market, even with an ambitious future trade agreement with the European Union, exports of insurance and pension services from the UK would be almost 20% lower per year. Does the hon. Gentleman think that, however difficult it would be to present it to his constituents, staying in the single market might be the best way to protect a considerable number of insurance jobs in his constituency and elsewhere?
I do not. I have spoken to a wide range of stakeholders, including the London Market Group, Lloyd’s and the Association of British Insurers. I will make the point later that from their perspective, even free trade agreements are not necessarily the way forward.
Returning to the trend of the loss of global market share by UK commercial insurance, it is particularly important that the Government and industry consider the measures that can be introduced to reverse that trend, to encourage more trade and opportunities and, crucially, to promote the industry. It has long been argued in the insurance sector, and is something I have raised many times in this House, that our regulators should have a dual role—they should promote on the international stage. That would mirror what many of our competitors around the world already do, particularly in emerging areas.
We need domestic reform just to put us on a level footing with our competitors. UK regulators should have a regard for our international competitiveness. That means they would have to consider the impact of their decisions on the ability of UK-based financial services to compete on the international stage that we want to have access to. The sector has repeatedly made the point that progress does not necessarily rely on agreeing formal free trade agreements—they are not the be-all and end-all. The Government can make substantial progress now using some of the existing tools available to them such as financial and economic dialogues, which offer real benefits in shorter time frames. There would be an opportunity to turn them into bilateral agreements in future—the ABI highlighted that in relation to China and India in particular.
To remain internationally competitive, a future regulatory framework needs to be outcome-based. There is a view that trade should not be prevented by technical divergence between the UK and third countries if the outcome of the regulation is the same. So that we are not overtaken, it is important that Government, in partnership with organisations such as the LMG or the ABI, promote the unique benefit of access to our commercial insurance markets, given the significant economic and social benefits of expanding insurance provision and the growing protection gap challenge that many countries face.
I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to the London Makes it Possible campaign, run by the London Market Group. It is designed to promote London and the UK as the world’s pre-eminent insurance hub. It reminds countries around the world of the business range of risks we cover and is something that Government could get behind, to promote us. It has a fantastic website, where it is interesting to see some of the world-leading risks that we cover, and how our market is so different.
The expertise in this country enables us to place highly complex risks. The question is: where should we consider targeting? There are opportunities to grow the insurance trade in a number of developed and emerging markets. The ABI has identified 11 priority markets for future international trade, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Switzerland and the United States. In addition, the LMG has identified its own target markets: the US again and the markets of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which have huge cyber-insurance opportunities. Latin America has one of the lowest insurance penetrations in the world, largely due to measures to shield those countries from international insurance markets. Although it is understandable why they may want to do that, those measures limit the pooling of risk and make the insurance of large-scale natural disasters next to impossible. Importantly, that puts up costs for consumers and reduces take-up.
I visited the US last year with the British-American parliamentary group, to discuss financial services post-Brexit. We went to Washington and New York to see at first hand how important our insurance industry is there. The US continues to be the London Market Group’s single biggest source of business. In 2017, Lloyd’s under- writers wrote approximately £13.5 billion of US business, contributing to a total of approximately £20 billion of London Market Group premiums. The US spend on cyber-insurance alone is expected to reach $6.2 billion by 2020. It also faces a growing need to strengthen resilience against natural disaster and to bolster federal and state insurance programmes. The three hurricanes in 2017 caused more than $217 billion-worth of damage, of which only $92 billion was covered by insurance.
The Government have already made important progress in negotiating and signing the UK-US covered agreement for reinsurance, which removes some collateral requirements and encourages regulatory dialogue between the UK and US. That is a very welcome step to developing a new post-Brexit trading relationship between the two countries. The UK is ready to take advantages of those opportunities. World-leading insurance expertise is already based in this country so it will be a critical industry for us.
Leaving the European Union with the deal that the Prime Minister hopes to get would do 6% damage to GDP. Leaving with no deal would do 8% damage. An American trade agreement would boost GDP by about 0.2%, which is a thirtieth or a fortieth of that, depending on the scenario. That means we would need about 30 or 40 US-style agreements to make up for the economic damage that Brexit will do.
I believe it is not just about US agreements; I mentioned many other countries where there could be an opportunity for future agreements. It is interesting to hear that remark from a member of the SNP, which is looking to leave the UK, where 60% of Scotland’s exports come from.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to intervene later, as I want to wind up my remarks.
I began by saying that leaving the EU brings a unique opportunity to the UK. In order to make the most of leaving, we need to rethink our strategy. The creation of our own UK regulatory framework can play a big part in that. I want to make it clear that the insurance industry is not looking for standards to be reduced or diluted. It is committed to maintaining standards, but it needs to be able to compete on the global stage. We should be under no illusions: regulation is a key factor in businesses deciding to invest here and to send their people here. It is really important that the Minister has at the forefront of his mind the need to retain proportionate regulation so we are not put at a disadvantage.
In March, following his spring statement, the Chancellor announced that the Government would review the UK’s future regulatory framework for financial services to
“maintain world-leading financial services regulatory standards, remain open to international markets, and realise new trading opportunities.”
An international competitiveness duty should be a priority for that review. As I said, I think there are exciting opportunities ahead. Those of us who believe in the potential for our trading future were heartened by the International Trade Secretary’s comment that we will
“break down the barriers to trade wherever we find them.”—[Official Report, 16 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 43.]
That needs to be our mantra as we move forward. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about how we can continue our progress.
I shall be brief. It will be a massive challenge to recover the trade that we shall lose. We currently negotiate as Team EU; standing alone as Britain, negotiating with other countries—particularly large ones, such as the United States and China—will be very difficult. There is a debate about climate change in the main Chamber at the moment. It seems to me that we shall have to trade further afield, which will harm our climate. I hope we see the introduction of carbon pricing to save the climate, but that will not be good for trade.
The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) mentioned the WTO. There are 160 countries in the WTO, many of which have dictators and so on, and they will jointly make rules that govern us. It is a massive organisation, with a panel of unelected judges that will impose rules on our courts. We will not, for instance, be able to bring the railways and water companies into public ownership, as some in the Labour party would like to.
There will also be a great threat to our standards from things such as hormone-impregnated meat, chlorinated chicken and the sale of asbestos, all of which we see in the United States. The United States is likely to put pressure on us to allow the lowering of standards in exchange for access to digital and financial markets, for example.
I just note that when the International Trade Committee went to Japan and South Korea, the thing that sparked most concern among Japanese investors was the nationalisation of industries under a potential future Labour Government. That caused greater alarm than any discussion about Brexit. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that nationalisation may cause wider worry among international investors?
Ironically, the architect of the single market was largely Margaret Thatcher. As has been pointed out, it is one of the most perfect marketplaces in the world. She enabled the Japanese to platform into the European marketplace. Of course, they are all leaving now, because we are Brexiting. There is an EU-Japan deal, which we will be cut out of, and the car manufacturers are moving for that reason, too. Historically, the Japanese brought together the Government and industry in a way that allowed platforming, and used active government to help industry. That is what a Labour Government would want. The Japanese are not very happy about Brexit, and they are basically pulling out, which is a complete disaster for Britain.
On how we move ahead with the Trade Bill, I want assurances from the Minister about the scrutiny, accountability and transparency of future trade deals. It seems to me that there will be enormous pressure on standards, human rights, the environment, workers’ rights, consumer rights—everything. The Department is denying access even to the aims and objectives of trade negotiations, which are transparent in the United States and the EU. In fact, as I understand it, there is currently a freedom of information case in court because the Department is resisting providing access to that information. That is appalling. It bodes very badly, and I am very concerned.
I also want assurances from the Minister about investor-state dispute settlements, especially as fracking companies, for example, presumably will want to continue the appalling work that this Government have started. We are debating fracking to a certain extent today in the main Chamber. It is so destructive. The Minister may know that 5% of the methane is leaked, and that methane is 85 times worse than carbon dioxide for global warming, making fracking worse than coal. Under investor-state dispute settlements, big fracking companies such as Lone Pine have fined the Canadian Government hundreds of millions of dollars for imposing a moratorium on fracking in Quebec. Will he therefore rule out investor-state dispute settlements?
Will the Minister ensure that Parliament can fully scrutinise and agree on the negotiating aims of future trade deals? Will he allow MPs to access some of the documentation, and to have debates and votes? We do not want, week after week, to be presented with a deal versus no deal choice in which the Government say, “Here’s the deal with Chile. If we don’t sign it, even though it’s not as good as the one we’ve got already, we won’t get anything. Come on,” and force through appalling trade deals that are not in our interests and may undermine human rights abroad and environmental protections here and elsewhere.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I am sure that, given your passion about Brexit, you would like to speak in the debate yourself. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) for securing the debate. What a refreshing change it is to talk about opportunity rather than threat—it is just a shame that we do not have longer to do so.
I do not wish to retread well-worn ground, but one of my abiding concerns about the withdrawal agreement is that it will, in effect, preclude us from drawing up an independent trading strategy, with the customs arrangements in the backstop effectively becoming the blueprint for the future relationship. That would cause us to enter a de facto customs union with the EU and be tethered to the EU’s regulatory regime without a seat at the table, as was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s admission about the commonalities between her customs position and that of Mr Corbyn. I do not see that loss of power as compatible with the public’s decision to leave the EU.
It is a myth that the customs arrangements in the withdrawal agreement would deliver frictionless trade with the EU. One freight forwarder told the International Trade Committee that
“a softer Brexit would deliver a harder Brexit for us”.
Indeed, with UK wet stamp certifications or similar for every consignment to or from the EU and Northern Ireland, and a customs arrangement tantamount to Turkey’s, in which the EU’s trading partners would benefit from access to the UK market without our deriving reciprocal access, the withdrawal agreement would preclude us from signing meaningful new FTAs and open up huge potential for tax leakage when it comes to tariff collection. I believe that would come very quickly to be understood as a substandard arrangement from which we would have no unilateral right of exit.
That is not to say that our future trading relationship with the EU should be deprioritised, or that to move away from the EU’s regulatory orbit will be plain sailing, or necessarily desirable in every sector. However, our future relationship must be placed on a sustainable footing, and such an asymmetric arrangement would not allow for that.
My desire has always been for us to strike a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, accept and then manage any trading friction that would cause, and offset costs through a competitive tax and regulatory regime and a broader range of new trading agreements that would—over time, admittedly—allow UK companies better to plug into growth markets or to enhance access to countries with which we already have strong trading relationships. Until that EU-UK relationship is determined, however, we have effectively put on ice the opportunities available with third countries, many of which are necessarily waiting to see the extent to which we are tied into EU structures to assess how deep a trading relationship they can have with us.
Looking to the future, it is important to underline that free trade agreements are not a panacea, but can none the less be used as a catalyst to deepen bilateral ties or simply to kick-start workstreams. We had a fascinating discussion at the International Trade Committee this morning about how Brexit has already had a positive impact simply through the creation of the Department for International Trade, which provides momentum and focus, and by sparking often overdue audits by UK companies of their agility, productivity and exposure to risk. The creation of a DIT database of trading opportunities for UK businesses has been enormously valuable, while the packaging of UK investment prospects in brands such as the northern powerhouse and the midlands engine has helped companies and trade bodies better articulate opportunities to prospective investors.
Companies have generally been impressed by the skills and energy of DIT teams in our embassies, but now they want those teams to enhance their regulatory knowledge, extend their networks to lobby more effectively and gear themselves to long-term relationships with key decision makers to act as experienced Sherpas to UK businesses. That will require lower churn of staff and a more extensive network of offices, particularly in different regions of China and states in America, where we can only achieve so much at federal level. The big prize would be in assisting mid-cap UK firms, where we currently fall short of the extensive assistance offered to the German Mittelstand by the powerful German chambers of commerce. We should also look to capitalise on and complement the existing networks of UK bodies such as the Corporation of London, which has developed city-to-city agreements with the likes of Tokyo and Shanghai on green finance, asset management and more.
With trade these days stifled much less by tariff than non-tariff barriers—admittedly the context is changing somewhat under the Trump Administration and the deteriorating relationship with China—future free trade area negotiations can be a focal point for, but need not hold up, wider country-to-country discussions on issues such as recognition between respective trade bodies of professional qualifications that would allow for the easier transfer of skilled staff; swifter, less costly visa regimes; research co-operation between universities; and working groups on regulatory harmonisation, such that close ties with countries like the United States, Australia and Singapore could create momentum for a move towards global standards in key industries of interest to us such as financial services, tech and the digital economy. Those are especially important issues for a services economy such as ours, and the coming together of powerhouses in financial services and life sciences such as the US and the UK could have a tremendous impact on the setting of those standards.
Should we ever get to the point where we can negotiate new FTAs, we ought to have completed an analysis of the errors made in the Brexit and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. I recommend, and I know the Minister agrees, that we ensure that Parliament has scoped out and agreed to a broad mandate for any new FTA and is able to access information about ongoing negotiations via a new, confidential parliamentary committee that could access relevant paperwork, trade expertise and legal advice.
Meanwhile, we should seek immediately to knock on the head unhelpful canards about chlorinated chicken or US healthcare companies being able to sue the NHS. Modern bilateral agreements are flexible and can permit carve-outs for sensitive areas of trade. The FTA between China and Australia, for instance, does not allow access to certain aspects of Australia’s pharmaceutical and healthcare system, while investor dispute settlement mechanisms are absent from large parts of the Canadian and American trading relationship. Ultimately, however, in being able to determine our own trade policy, we can be compelled neither to enter nor remain in any FTA or investment treaty that we do not believe to be in our interests, subject to notice.
There is so much more to say on this subject, but other Members wish to speak. Finally, I hope that this realignment of UK trading prospects is not hindered by the signing of a substandard withdrawal agreement that places us either implicitly or explicitly in a customs union, and that this debate marks the start of a more positive, creative discussion about the new trajectory on which we can place our nation in the years ahead. Ours is the world’s fifth-largest economy, strong in so many expanding areas such as services, science and digital technology, and able to attract huge amounts of investment despite the uncertainty that Parliament has created over Brexit. With skill, verve and leadership, the UK can eventually emerge a nimbler, more dynamic economy, not only better positioned to plug into growth markets but better able to deliver tangible benefits to the people and businesses we represent.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) on what so far has been an interesting debate. I gently remind the House of the promise that the International Trade Secretary made to have signed some 43 trade deals by the end of March 2019. Not surprisingly, that has not been achieved, and we are some way from seeing those 40 so-called roll-over EU trade agreements signed. That is an indication of the complexity of trade. While, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) alluded to, many things can affect future trading opportunities for British businesses, the instability of not having sorted out proper trade agreements with both the European Union and other key markets is likely to inhibit the international trading opportunities for British businesses.
I raise in particular concerns about trade in services, because the vast majority of the jobs done by my constituents that directly involve international trade are related to services. The few bits of detailed thinking from independent trade experts about the impact of Brexit on trade in services highlight the huge significance of such trade between the UK and the EU, and therefore what is at risk, in terms of scale, for the UK economy from any inhibitions of trade in services.
In 2017, according to the Centre for European Reform, services accounted for some 45% of total UK exports, or almost £300 billion. The EU received 40% of those exports, the highest proportion of any UK trading partner. Research by the Centre for European Reform suggests that if Britain leaves the single market and trades services under the provisions of an ambitious free trade agreement, on an annual basis UK exports to the EU of financial services will none the less be 60% lower, UK exports of insurance and pension services will be almost 20% lower, and exports of other business services, including law, accountancy and professional services, will be 10% lower. Those are all sectors in which Britain has a significant comparative advantage, so jobs, investment and tax revenues are all at risk in the case of withdrawal from the single market.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point, which leads me to the point raised by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). The stats he just gave lead to the 6% damage there would be to GDP. When I pointed out that we would need 30 or 40 America-style agreements, he said we can find more countries and more deals. The only problem is that the USA is a quarter of the world’s GDP, so we would need seven to 10 planets to make up for the damage the UK is inflicting on itself with Brexit.
I agree; the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Without dwelling on that point, the CER report helpfully points out that it is significantly more difficult to open services markets than goods markets to trade, because many barriers to trade are regulatory in nature. The quality and safety of a service is difficult to decide at the border.
As I pointed out in my intervention on the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, no group of countries has gone further than the European Union in making it easier to sell services produced in one country in another in a bloc, yet still barriers remain. Therefore, pulling out of the single market and negotiating a free trade agreement, however ambitious it ultimately is, would inevitably throw up new barriers to trade, particularly if we withdraw from the EU’s collective rulebook, shared institutions and cross-border enforcement regimes, as it appears the Prime Minister wants. Some of the impact of withdrawal from the single market for services could be offset with, for example, significant mutual recognition of qualifications and—more controversially—the temporary movement of people.
It is not fashionable to worry about the future of financial services—the case for further regulatory reform of the industry can easily be made—but it remains one of the few world-class industries we have in the UK, and it is clearly set to be damaged significantly, putting jobs in my constituency at risk. For that reason, I urge the House to vote for us to stay in the single market as part of a soft Brexit deal, put back to the British people in a public vote with the option, nevertheless, to remain in the EU.
I call Faisal Rashid. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to keep his remarks fairly short as we are running out of time for the winding-up speeches.
Thank you, Mr Rosindell. It is great to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) for securing this important debate. I will try to be as brief as possible.
International trade could not be more integral to both the history and the future of this country. Britain’s prosperity has always been tied to how we do business with the rest of the world. Our trading relationships determine our living standards, jobs and access to resources. It is high time that Members paused to reflect on the great trading potential this country could have under the right political leadership. Trade is not only a critical source of wealth creation; when tied to an open, rule-based system trade can also be a great driver of human rights and social justice. Now, in an era when unilateralism and protectionism is on the rise, it is more important than ever that we reflect, reject self-imposed isolation and explore fresh opportunities for UK businesses overseas.
Britain’s international trading practices can reflect our core values of mutual respect and shared prosperity, because not all trade is good trade. In international trade deals profit-making has too often taken precedence over workers’ rights and public services. The Government must provide more assurances in future trade deals with the US that our NHS is not put up for sale to large American pharmaceutical companies. If managed by the Tory right, trade deals, particularly those with the US, could severely undermine UK food, health and animal welfare standards. That could have a damaging impact on rural communities and undermine faith in the great potential prosperity that international trade can unlock. Parliament has no guaranteed role in scrutinising trade deals, despite their broad implications, because it currently follows an outdated convention from the 1920s. I believe that MPs must have a meaningful vote, as a minimum, before and after trade negotiations to prevent those damaging outcomes.
Yesterday, I chaired a two-hour panel discussion on Britain, Brexit and the belt and road initiative. As we prepare to leave the world’s largest single trading bloc, I asked, “How should post-Brexit Britain respond to the world’s biggest ongoing infrastructural project—China’s belt and road initiative?” It is not a question that the Government appear to be asking of themselves. This country is practically directionless on questions about long-term geopolitical significance; we are being left behind on the global stage. I am sure many Members have had—as I have had—countless conversations with dynamic businesses and talented, enterprising workers. I see great, untapped trading potential in my constituency, but we need to do more to maximise the opportunities afforded to those businesses overseas.
One in four British SMEs is currently involved either directly or indirectly in exporting overseas; supporting the growth of these industries is central to my work as an MP. I call on the Government to re-energise our approach to trade. We should reject the failed doctrines of free-trade orthodoxy and Trump’s tariff wars, to promote a just trade agenda, with an active state that is committed to upholding social and environmental standards. We must align our international trade policy with a comprehensive industrial strategy, creating opportunities at home and abroad that provide access to a range of skilled and well-paid jobs. A better future is possible and rethinking our approach to trade is the key to unlocking it.
I shall be brief; I love these one-hour debates, but we are now seeing the limitations of them.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) in one or two regards: we will most certainly face stiff competition, there will be substantial growth outwith the EU, and there is a range of opportunities. Where I disagree with him is that I do not believe we are ready. In terms of the opportunities that exist—as I will explain later, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who is Chair of the Select Committee, said—I do not believe that they will fill the gap we are about to create.
Along with many Members, including the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey), I am keen to talk about services in this regard; they have been ignored so far in the debate over customs, tariffs and checks at the border. They are the largest part of our economy and they are a substantial minority of our total exports, but the starting point about services does not fill me with confidence. If one looks at the Swiss deal, the House of Lords report said:
“Most trade in services, which make up 52 per cent of all UK-Swiss trade, is not covered by the deal.”
Lord Boswell went on to say that the deal with Switzerland
“in many aspects differs significantly from the EU-Swiss agreements it replaces.”
Likewise, after the deal with Norway was announced it was confirmed that it did not cover service trade or technical regulations for food, animals or plants. If we cannot replicate in the continuity agreements what we already have with friendly trading partners, it does not augur well for cutting new and innovative deals. I hope the Minister will say a word or two about how he intends to get around that obstacle when we start negotiating in earnest.
My hon. Friend was very kind, when he started his speech, in agreeing with the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey). I am sure there is much to agree with, but I would like to pull the hon. Member for North Warwickshire up on the point he made about Scottish independence and the SNP. Scotland is not talking about walking out of trade blocs or ripping up trade agreements; it is talking about completing the process of political devolution, which would be independence. A country that has done that already and devolved from the UK—namely Ireland—is now in a trading bloc that represents about 22% of global GDP and it has an equal voice, while Scotland is stuck as a hostage in a little place that represents only 4% of global GDP.
My hon. Friend makes his point himself; I will not spend time agreeing with him, although I do entirely.
The Swiss and Norway continuity agreements demonstrate what happens when negotiations take place from a position of weakness. In the EU-US negotiations we have seen the US adamant that agriculture would be included in any deal, but the EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström told the US trade representative that they could not negotiate on agriculture. She has been quoted as saying:
“We have made very clear agriculture will not be included.”
She can do that from a position of strength. My great concern is that the UK is negotiating from a position of profound weakness, as evidenced by the failure of the continuity agreements, meaning that we may well face all the downsides of the US and others seeking an agricultural deal that will weaken food, hygiene and environmental standards. How does the Minister respond to that? It would be useful to know.
I finish by making a key point that was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar when he talked about export figures. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggested that any Brexit would see a loss of around 20% in total UK trade. Cutting a deal with the main English-speaking economies would see an increase of 2% to 3% and cutting a deal with the BRIC countries would see an increase of 2% to 3%. If we lose 20% of our total trade, the best we can do with the biggest economies in the world is to claw back maybe 5% or 6%. It is a pretty bad starting point. How does the Minister intend to ensure that there is a real focus on filling the gap and making sure that no part of the country, no part of the economy and no workforce is sacrificed on the altar of Brexit ideology?
In congratulating the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) on securing the debate, I call on the Minister to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie). What the hon. Member for North Warwickshire failed to address was not so much the need for seven or eight new planets, but the gaping black hole that cannot be filled by the figures he gave for how we will replace trade with the EU.
It is fitting that we are debating the future of international trade at the same time as Members in the main Chamber are discussing Labour’s call to declare a climate emergency. The opportunities in the low-carbon economy for trade in goods and services as part of—as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said—the global economic benefits of $26 trillion, need to be at the heart of our industrial and trade strategy. However, before concentrating on the export potential of renewable technology, I will spend a few minutes on other topics.
Trade in services is vital to our economy. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire mentioned the importance of insurance, and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) mentioned the other service parts of the economy that are crucial to his constituents. Trade in services represents the majority of the economy, driving jobs and prosperity to Britain, and it will be significantly impacted by the nature of our future relationship with the EU. Having a strong relationship with the internal market of the EU is therefore essential.
Turning to the Government’s failure to make progress in negotiating replacements for the 43 agreements with 70 or so countries to which we are party through our membership of the EU, at the last count we were told that four deals were off track, 19 were significantly off track, four were impossible to complete and two were not even being negotiated. Perhaps the Minister can update us. It is no good the Government’s saying we should have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal. The fact that the details of the future relationship with the EU will be negotiated only after we have left means that what is on offer is blind Brexit. That is why the Opposition cannot support the current deal.
Is it the view of the Labour party that we should have disregarded the EU’s statement that, under its laws, it did not think it was possible to negotiate the future partnership until after we had left?
That is another debate. I will stick to the topic of international trade and future arrangements.
As any business person knows, you look after existing relationships first and maximise them—something I learned through running a business for 15 years. The same principle applies to countries, which is why a close relationship with our biggest trading partner is essential. Meanwhile, there is no sign of the Trade Bill returning from the Lords, and Government plans to implement zero tariffs unilaterally really would create a disincentive for countries to negotiate a trade deal with us, because we would be giving away the shop before negotiations started and would have nothing to offer in return for a trade deal.
I want to give the Minister plenty of time to respond, so in the time remaining I will speak about the low-carbon economy and the need to address the climate emergency. This Government’s record in international trade is a cause for concern in relation to the low-carbon economy: £2.362 billion of UK export finance over the past five years has been spent on exports to low and middle-income countries in the energy sector relating to fossil fuels, with just £1 million invested in the renewables sector. If we are serious about tackling climate change, those figures need to be completely reversed, so it is disappointing that after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report last autumn, this Government announced that they were considering support for a Bahrain oil refinery.
We have many success stories in renewable energy; we are often world leaders in technology—Windhoist, for example, sells wind turbines to Taiwan and Australia—but for other companies there is only frustration. Award-winning exporter Nova Innovation exports tidal energy equipment. Its chief executive officer, Simon Forrest, says:
“At the moment, we hold the trump cards in marine power—the resource is abundant, it’s completely predictable, we have a global lead and we have got the supply chain. What we don’t have is revenue support to take us to market. That’s what Denmark did with wind, and we didn’t. Having built up this lead, we will lose it to Canada or Japan.”
We cannot afford to let that happen in sectors such as tidal energy. We can be leaders in the low-carbon economy. Meeting the challenge of the climate emergency can deliver future prosperity through a proper industrial and international trade strategy in renewables, not fossil fuels. It is time to develop the future, not the past.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) for introducing this important debate, and thank hon. Members from across the House for the many informed contributions, which I will return to before I have finished.
This debate is important because trade really matters to the UK. At £634 billion last year—equivalent to 30% of GDP—exports are not some separate add-on to our economy; they are integral to it. That is before we even get to our record £1.3 trillion of foreign direct investment, which last year alone created 76,000 new jobs, or the benefit of imports in giving us a wider choice of more affordable goods.
That is not the high-water mark, however: there are more opportunities to come. The patterns of world trade are shifting. We are entering a Pacific century after four Atlantic ones. The latest World Bank figures show China adding an economy the size of Portugal to its GDP ever four months—a pretty astonishing statistic. The UK will be one of the few developed countries to stay in the top 10. We can take advantage of that shift if we act now. That is why the Government have consulted on new trade agreements with the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and on potential accession to the catchily named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a cross-Pacific agreement that covers 11 nations and already 13% of the world’s GDP, including many of the growing markets to which my hon. Friend referred in his speech.
The nature of trade is also shifting. McKinsey estimates that digital trade flows contribute more to the world economy than the entire trade in goods. Services are becoming ever more international. The UK is well placed to take advantage of those trends, too. We have a flourishing digital sector, with Europe’s largest e-commerce market. We are the second largest service exporter and, as my hon. Friend mentioned, we have particular strengths in areas such as insurance, where Lloyd’s is the world leader in maritime risk and specialist insurance and reinsurance.
That is why, in December, we submitted our WTO service schedules, to give continuity for our service exporters, and why, once we represent ourselves at the World Trade Organisation, we will be pushing for further liberalisation and further reform within the rules-based, consent-based, multilateral framework it provides. That also means looking beyond traditional trade agreements, which is why my Department has secured market access for everything from energy trading in China, to beef and lamb in Japan.
My hon. Friend mentioned a report by the London Market Group. As a specific response to that report, we have set up a new workstream with LMG to promote insurers in Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries. I saw that at first hand when I visited Singapore not long ago and met Prudential, which is working with Babylon. Amazingly, Prudential has a subsidiary in Malaysia that is nearly 100 years old and another in Singapore that is 85 years old. It has subsidiaries in Vietnam and in Indonesia and business throughout the ASEAN region, and I was very impressed by its attitude. It understood the power of data and of digital to allow it to insure more properly.
Colleagues have raised a number of issues, and I would like to deal with one or two of those. We have published a Command Paper on scrutiny and have made it absolutely clear that we wish to be transparent in how trade deals are dealt with in the House of Commons. The House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, should have full and proper scrutiny and we are pursuing those models. We are coming to a conclusion about the way in which we wish to do that and no doubt we will in due course negotiate with various parties in the House.
The hon. Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) both noted that services are at the centre of the UK’s agenda. Barriers to trade in services are generally behind the border, and with free trade agreements we deal with those issues through joint economic forums and multilateral interactions.
An independent trade policy is an opportunity for the UK. I understand the issue of the weight of 600 million people, but that also means that our trade policy is compromised. It is compromised in a good way—do not get me wrong—but it is designed to fit 28 nations. With a UK-based trade policy, we, with the sixth largest economy—or the fifth largest, depending on how it is measured—will have a tailored free-trade policy, which will be for the UK alone, and there will plainly be advantages in that.
The hon. Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Harrow West and for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) made plain that what they want is no Brexit at all. We all have starting points on that question. I would describe myself as a democrat first and a remainer second, and the British people, while they did not speak with an absolutely unified voice on this issue, have told us that we should leave the EU. The hon. Members’ proposition simply does not deliver Brexit.
On continuity agreements, most Members will agree that there are all sorts of different motivations among our partners.
Will the Minister give way?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the clock, he will see that I cannot give way. Actually, rather than finishing my speech, I ought to give my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire space to sum up. I thank all hon. Members.
I thank all hon. Members for taking part. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) that we need a lot more time to debate the issue. I thank everybody for their contributions and the Minister for his encouraging response. It is probably no surprise that I do not share the Opposition’s negativity about our ability to succeed outside the EU; I look forward to our soon getting the opportunity to put that into action.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered future international trade opportunities for the UK.