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Topical Questions

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 17 October 2019

I am delighted to have been appointed as Trade Secretary at this vital time in our nation’s history. For the first time in 46 years, we will have an independent trade policy and be able to set our rules and regulations, which means that we will be able to strike deals with likeminded countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. We will also be able to take up our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation, leading the fight for free trade and participating in the battle against protectionism.

Ninety per cent. of the world’s illegal deforestation takes place in the Amazon rainforest—something that the Paris agreement explicitly sets out to tackle and reduce. Does the Secretary of State agree that if we are serious about tackling climate change, the ratification and implementation of the Paris agreement must be a precondition for any country that wishes to make a trade deal with the United Kingdom?

I am a great believer that free trade and free enterprise help us to achieve our environmental goals through better technology, more innovation and more ingenuity. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns), recently visited Brazil and discussed those precise issues with its Trade Minister.

Sylatech is a precision engineering business in Kirkbymoorside in my constituency, but it is suffering a significant business impact due to control delays on its export licence applications. Will my hon. Friend update the House with a timescale to resolve that problem?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on working so hard to promote businesses in his area. I am delighted that our performance in dealing with licence applications is good, and I pay tribute to those who work in the Export Control Joint Unit. Some 80% of applications are concluded within 20 days, and 96% within 60 days. In some cases, complex issues have to be assessed, but we will do everything that we can to facilitate and accelerate the decision on the case raised by my hon. Friend.

The House recently passed a statutory instrument to extend EU protection against extraterritorial lawsuits under the US Helms-Burton Act. The Secretary of State will know that investors are already speaking with law firms to launch dispute proceedings against the UK under long dormant bilateral treaties. What estimates has she made of the quantum of such suits, and what protections will she introduce to safeguard the public purse and public policy?

T6. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Southend on the initiative of welcoming ambassadors from countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Maldives and India to boost trade once we leave the European Union? (900022)

It sounds like my hon. Friend is drawing up a very exciting programme of autumn travel. He is absolutely right that our departure from the European Union will offer huge opportunities for the United Kingdom in the vast and growing Asian market, which I saw at first hand only a couple of weeks ago in Vietnam.

T3. The annual number of customs declarations established by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs under a no-deal scenario is estimated to be 270 million. The current number is 55 million. How do the Government expect to process the additional workload when they are shutting down vital HMRC centres such as Lynx House in Portsmouth? (900019)

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that an incredible amount of work has been going on across Government to make sure that we are fully prepared for all scenarios. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been holding daily meetings—there have been 60 so far—and we are performing well, particularly on making sure that actions at the borders are in place.

Our biggest export sector is services, which are invisible, and particularly financial services. Our biggest export market is the US. What discussions has the Secretary of State had about opening up financial services exports to the US and removing some non-tariff barriers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this is a fantastic opportunity for the UK. When I was out in the US, I met Bob Lighthizer, and I also met the Treasury Secretary to discuss those potential opportunities with him. The UK is not just going to roll over in a trade deal with the US. We will make sure that our industries are promoted. We want barriers removed in the US to our successful service industries.

T4. Back when we were told that we hold all the cards, the post of British trade negotiator had been obsolete for 45 years. Would the Secretary of State recommend it as a long-term career path? We are, as we know, at the beginning. When does she envisage the negotiations ever being over? (900020)

I hope that the hon. Lady will be supporting the Prime Minister in his negotiations in Brussels, where he has already secured significant advances to where we were, in particular by ensuring that Britain is able to have its own independent trade policy once we leave the EU, and to control our own rules and regulations.

To avoid freeports just displacing activity, does the Minister agree that freeport activity should be based on the existing unique and distinctive capabilities of a port, such as Milford Haven, the UK’s leading energy port, which has an unrivalled skills base and infrastructure?

My right hon. Friend is quite right. The design of the policy is vital. Optimising existing strength is an important part of ensuring that the policy is a success.

T5. Despite the 2016 Colombia peace agreement, murders of trade unionists, human rights defenders and community leaders continue in very large numbers. Can the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be no free trade agreement with Colombia until it fully complies with its international human rights obligations? (900021)

As a result of devastating African swine fever, 130 million pigs have recently been slaughtered in China, which is home to half the world’s pigs. Is this not a great opportunity for my right hon. Friend, who did so much to open this market to British pig farmers, to promote the merits of British products from our pigs, including, of course, the unrivalled Gloucester Old Spot?

My hon. Friend is right. I was very proud to open the market for pigs trotters into China when I was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Market access is very important. We have seen a massive increase in pork exports to China over the past five years. He is right that our high welfare standards and quality produce are valued across the world. There are lots of new opportunities, including for the Gloucester Old Spot.

Leaked documents from Operation Kingfisher showed that York would be the worst-hit place in the country in the event of no deal. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with my city to ensure that we will be able to trade after 31 October?

No doubt the hon. Lady will be supporting a deal to ensure that the good people of York have the trading opportunities that they deserve.

Returning to the issue of freeports, the Secretary of State visited Immingham in my constituency last year and saw for herself the great opportunities that exist to improve the local economy. Will she continue working with me to ensure that the Humber ports do indeed receive freeport status?

As I represent a constituency in the Humber area, I will continue, without giving any special status, to ensure that we liaise with my hon. Friend, but he is so right. Conservative Members are focused on trying to find policies that open up investment and bring in further jobs, but the Labour party’s manifesto sets out policies that would destroy inward investment and cost tens of thousands of jobs.

Does the Secretary of State accept the Food and Drink Federation’s analysis that, with a complex and confusing no-deal tariff schedule, investment made right across the supply chain in preparing for a no-deal Brexit means that food prices will likely increase?

The best way of avoiding no deal is for the—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but this is common sense: the best way to avoid no deal is to vote for a deal.

Will the Secretary of State give us an update on where we are on joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?

I discussed that with Trade Ministers when I visited New Zealand, Japan and Australia. They are all very interested in the UK’s joining, and I want to progress that alongside the bilateral discussions that we are having with the countries. It will give us access to 11 fast-growing markets in Asia, so it is a massively exciting opportunity.

Will Ministers assure us that, in their desperation to sign any trade deal to justify their Brexit policy, they will not give a green light, or a nod and a wink, to President Bolsonaro to continue the destruction of the Amazon rain forest?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State alluded to some moments ago, I visited Brazil recently. In addition to conversations about trade, we discussed with the Brazilian Government how the United Kingdom can assist them in their move to a low-carbon, greener energy production model. We have spent over £150 million of climate finance in forest programmes across Brazil, and I was delighted, in the light of my recent visit, that the Prime Minister announced a further £10 million to help the Brazilian authorities in forestation and deforestation.

The National Audit Office said yesterday that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, cross-border shipments could be reduced by more than 50% and would take 12 months to return to normal. Can we stop this charade? Is it not the case that no responsible Government would do that to our businesses, and that if there is no agreement with the EU by Saturday, the Prime Minister will send the letter requesting an extension, not least because if he fails to do so he will be in contempt of court, given the proceedings in the Court of Session?

As well as birthday congratulations to the hon. Gentleman, I have other good news: we are taking steps to support businesses in all scenarios and to ensure that, with or without a deal, we minimise any negative disruption. But as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State just said—this is an appeal to Members right across this House—we will have the opportunity to vote for a Saturday sitting, and we will have the opportunity, I hope, to see a deal put through that will mean that we can move forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, finally, will support and respect the decision of the British people in 2016.