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Global Free Trade

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 23 January 2020

As we leave the European Union, we have a huge opportunity to be a liberalising force for trade in the world. We aim to secure agreements with countries accounting for 80% of UK trade within three years of leaving the EU, and as we take up our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation we will be a champion of global free trade.

The farmers in my constituency of South Cambridgeshire are some of the most productive in the country and they are very keen to increase exports. They also want to make sure that they are not undermined in the marketplace by competing with farmers from countries that follow lower environmental standards or animal welfare standards. As my right hon. Friend starts the negotiations with other countries to increase trade, what is she doing to make sure that farmers from Britain can compete on a level playing field?

We remain absolutely committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards post Brexit. As my hon. Friend points out, there are huge opportunities for farmers for trade—for example, getting lamb into the US market. The US is the second biggest importer of lamb by value in the world. Currently, UK lamb cannot get into the US market, and that is a huge opportunity for our farmers.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. I am keen to know whether these steps will make a visible difference to the businesses in Wolverhampton that trade globally.

Lowering barriers will mean lower costs for businesses and more choice for consumers. In Wolverhampton and the west midlands overall we send one in five of all exports to the United States. Getting a trade deal with the US would mean a removal of tariffs on products such as cars, textiles and steel, so there are huge opportunities there for those businesses to grow.

I am glad that the Secretary of State expects us to cut lots of free trade deals, but they do not happen by chance; they happen by detailed analysis and tough negotiations. How does she believe we can succeed in those negotiations when the number of expert trade negotiators she has is a fraction of the 600 the EU has? More importantly, is she not setting herself up for a fall by rather foolishly, in my opinion, embarking on parallel trade negotiations with such limited resources with both the European Union and the USA?

I am afraid I am not surprised to hear the SNP talking our country down. The fact is that we have scaled up our trade negotiation expertise. We now have approximately the same number as the US Trade Representative, which is one of the leading trade negotiators in the world. Our trade negotiators have already secured £110 billion of trade continuity deals, even though people such as the hon. Gentleman said it could not be done. Those negotiators have a wide experience in trade law from the private sector, and we have also recruited people from other Commonwealth nations with experience from the WTO. We have an excellent team at the Department for International Trade, and we have the staff in place ready to conduct the negotiations with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

The statement from the Trump Administration that we will be subject to retaliatory tariffs if we proceed with the digital services tax that is set to come in in April seems an early test of how we will fare in independent trade talks. Could the Secretary of State tell us whether the Government intend to concede to American pressure?

Let me be clear: UK tax policy is a matter for the UK Chancellor—it is not a matter for the US; it is not a matter for the EU; it is not a matter for anybody else—and we will make the decisions that are right for Britain whether they are on our regulatory standards, our tax policy or anything else.

Graham Harvey is a constituent of mine who runs an excellent little composites business on the Isle of Wight. He has just won a big order to sell to Taiwan. That is exactly the sort of business that I know the Secretary of State will want to cheer on, but he is finding it extremely difficult to get export finance and banking finance. I have written to the Secretary of State. Does she share my concern that our small and medium-sized businesses are not being given the support they need to export successfully?

I am very proud of the work that UK Export Finance does. It has just celebrated its 100th birthday of supplying export finance for British business. I am very keen, and I have laid this out to the team, that we do more to support small and medium-sized enterprises. I would be very happy to look at the case for my hon. Friend’s constituent, and make sure that he is getting the support that he needs. We do have additional available finance, and there is also an exporting toolkit for MPs to help them get in touch with export finance.