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International Trade

Volume 672: debated on Thursday 5 March 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

UK/US Free Trade Agreement

1. What recent assessment she has made of the potential economic benefits to manufacturing industries of a free trade agreement with the US. (901114)

A free trade agreement with the US could deliver a £15 billion increase in bilateral trade, increase manufacturing output and benefit all parts of the UK economy, particularly the midlands, Scotland and the north-east.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, and for the scale of the Government’s ambitions for the trade deal. In Newcastle-under-Lyme we have a number of firms that have US subsidiaries or sister companies, or that themselves have US parent companies. Can she confirm that a comprehensive UK-US trade deal would benefit such firms by cutting red tape and increasing the trading ties between our two countries?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; every morning more than 1 million people in Britain get up and go to work for American firms, and more than 1 million people in the US go to work for British firms. We want a closer economic relationship so that we can share ideas, products and goods, to the benefit of both nations.

The Secretary of State told us on Monday that ceramics factories in the UK could benefit from a US trade deal, but that is not the view of the British Ceramic Confederation, which has warned of the dangers that low-quality ceramics would have on UK industry. Does she not accept that the manufacturing industry is right to be concerned about the threat posed by the agreement she is proposing?

Laura Cohen, of the British Ceramic Confederation, has said:

“A USA trade agreement could help our sector. For example, there are high tariffs on ceramic catering-ware imports…and without this barrier our exports to the USA could grow.”

Of course we will take action through the Trade Remedies Authority to deal with the illegal dumping of ceramic products on the UK market, but it is simply wrong to say that the ceramics industry would not benefit from a US trade deal.

But Laura Cohen is not talking about the type of trade deal that the Government are proposing, is she? The BCC has warned of the dangers of the Government’s proposed mutual recognition clauses, which is where the flood of low-quality imports would come from. The Secretary of State’s own scoping assessment says nothing about the impact of cheap US imports on UK manufacturing either, so why will she not listen to the industry? Should the Government not rethink their approach to the US agreement and look after our own excellent manufacturing sector, rather than pursuing a policy of “America First”?

I find this pretty ludicrous. The hon. Gentleman will have seen in the scoping assessment that virtually every sector of the UK economy, including manufacturing and agriculture, will benefit from a US trade deal. Steelite International, a fantastic company that I visited recently in Stoke-on-Trent, has also welcomed the potential removal of tariffs on its products—up to 28% on dinnerware—which it says will help it expand its operations.

Will the Secretary of State please comment on some of the parts of her proposals that are likely to benefit manufacturing and high-tech companies in west Oxfordshire and enable them to export their goods to the United States?

One of the points that we laid out in our negotiation objectives is that we want to achieve an advanced digital and data chapter. Currently, 79% of all our services are provided remotely. A digital and data chapter will give us the ability to underwrite those transactions and do more electronically, which will provide huge benefits to those high-tech industries in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

All this debate between the Secretary of State and Labour’s Front-Bench spokesperson shows how important it will be to scrutinise the small print of the deal, so will she allow this Parliament a vote on the deal, such as the kind that the US Congress will get, or does she think that America deserves more democratic scrutiny of the deal than the United Kingdom?

We have a parliamentary system in this country, so for these types of decisions the treaties are laid before Parliament through the CRAG—Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—process. I point out to the hon. and learned Lady that we also have an extensive programme of engagement with business. We have 17 expert trade advisory groups, through which we will ask business for their specific feedback to ensure that we are not lowering standards, and to ensure that we have the right standards for our industry. That is the consultation process that we are undertaking.

Goods Exports

UK goods exports were up 6.4% last year to a record £372 billion. Interestingly, the three fastest-growing UK goods exports in 2019 were: one, unspecified goods; two, works of art; and three, jewellery.

In 2019, goods exports to the EU were down by 0.9% to £170.6 billion, while goods exports to the non-EU were up by 13.6% to £201.5 billion.

UK/EU Trade Agreement

3. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of a trade agreement with the EU on similar terms to the EU-Australia trade negotiations. (901117)

The United Kingdom has published its approach to negotiations with the European Union, and the first round of talks is already under way. The United Kingdom is looking for a free trade agreement with the European Union based on EU precedent. Whatever the outcome of the talks led by David Frost and “Taskforce Europe,” this year we will recover our political and economic independence in full.

The question was about whether the Government are seeking to agree what they call an Australia-style deal between the EU and the UK. Given that there is no deal between Australia and the EU, can the Government confirm whether they are happy to accept a no deal between the UK and the EU?

We already have a deal with the EU that the Prime Minister secured last year. The question now is whether we can secure a free trade agreement with the EU. We seek a Canada-style deal, but Australia trades perfectly effectively through a number of side deals with the EU. Whatever happens, we are going to deliver on the referendum result, fully leave the European Union and provide British business and the British people with the opportunities of global free trade.

Can the Minister confirm that, under what the Government euphemistically call this Australia-style trade agreement, all the bilateral investment agreements we have with EU states, which were suspended while we were a member of the EU, will come back into force? What assessment has he made of the likely dispute proceedings that investors from those countries could launch and of the impact that would have on UK trade?

The shadow Secretary of State may be moderately confused about our purpose here today, as this is questions to the Department for International Trade. As he is well aware, the European Union negotiations are handled by the Cabinet Office, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and David Frost, reporting to the Prime Minister.

What progress has been made in laying the groundwork for a UK-Australia free trade agreement? Is a timetable in place for the commencement of those negotiations?

This week we have published the proposals for the United States deal, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is ably leading on Australia, Canada, Japan and, potentially, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. She will come to the House in due course, hopefully soon, to lay out full proposals for the terms of those negotiations[Official Report, 9 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 2MC.].

As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ghana and other parts of west Africa, I am delighted to be meeting a delegation this afternoon to talk about our expertise in science and technology and how we can help to support development in those countries. Does the Minister agree that, as we look out to the rest of the world post Brexit, it is trade with developing nations that will deliver the jobs, prosperity and mutual benefit we seek?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He does an excellent job, for which I thank him, as trade envoy to Ghana. We see enormous potential for development and people’s life chances, particularly on the continent of Africa, in free trade between us and Africa, and around the world. Free trade is the route to prosperity, and it is the route to lift people out of poverty. This Government will always champion it for the most deprived people in the world.

The Minister has just mentioned the Department’s economic impact assessments on future trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and a CPTPP-type deal, but he will understand that a CETA-type deal—a Canada-style deal with Europe—will hit our economy by 6.2%. To what extent does he believe that the trade deals done with Japan, Australia, New Zealand and so on will compensate for that huge loss to our economy?

We do not see these things as mutually exclusive. We are now going to be an independent sovereign nation, seeking free trade agreements around the world, liberating British business, with the opportunity to tap in to some of the fastest-growing economies around the world. We want a good deal with the EU and with partners around the world, to the mutual benefit and prosperity of all our citizens.

Foreign Direct Investment

4. What recent assessment she has made of the potential contribution of future foreign direct investment to the economy of each region of the UK. (901119)

17. What recent assessment she has made of the potential contribution of future foreign direct investment to the economy of each region of the UK. (901136)

18. What recent assessment she has made of the potential contribution of future foreign direct investment to the economy of each region of the UK. (901137)

Winning further foreign direct investment is crucial to the delivery of rising living standards and the levelling up of left-behind communities up and down the land. Companies such as Ferrero, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), which exports wonderful, quality chocolate all over the world, will potentially benefit, as will other UK chocolate producers, as a result of our UK-US free trade agreement.

I thank the Minister for that answer, and I join him in valuing the investment that Ferrero has brought to the old Thorntons factory. Most of the large employers in my constituency have had FDI at some point or other in their history, so what more can the Government do to ensure that that investment is spread out evenly across the country, and is not just focused in London and the south-east?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, because FDI is so important to the UK. Foreign-owned firms represent only 1% of businesses, yet they contribute 22% of economic output and deliver 15% of employment. My Department uses our regional teams right around the country, and in 110 countries around the world, to make sure that we get that message out. Only yesterday, I hosted a meeting with regional leaders from right across the UK at No. 10 to show the importance we attach, as my hon. Friend does, to sharing these FDI benefits right across the country.

Does the Minister agree with me and with residents of Carshalton and Wallington that instead of talking down London, as the current Mayor does, we should be supporting Shaun Bailey’s idea to put in a deputy Mayor for trade to make sure that London remains a destination with one of the highest levels of FDI in the world, to attract businesses and entrepreneurs?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I think the people of London want a Mayor who makes things happen, who is a champion of business and who recognises that, for all the wealth in London, there are too many people left behind. We need a Mayor who gets on with the job—one who does not act like a commentator but who actually acts like a leader.

Does my hon. Friend agree that free ports will help to attract significant foreign investment, and regenerate and create jobs in some of our communities and deprived areas?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, on which he is right. He is constantly championing the interests of his area, not least because of the need for regeneration. Free ports offer that opportunity. We are in constant talks with The Bristol Port Company, and I know that he is working closely with the West of England Mayor to make sure that that regeneration and the benefits of FDI are brought to his part of the country, with all the prosperity and employment benefits that that will bring.

The Minister will be aware of the concerns of businesses and, in particular, of producers supporting our regional economies about the impact of the proposed most favoured nation tariffs on their capacity to attract investment in new technology that is essential for our transition to net zero. What assessment has he made of the impact of the proposed measures on the UK’s attractiveness as a destination for investment, particularly in new green technology?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The consultation closes tonight and we are determined to get the right balance. We are clear that we are going to have a tariff regime that benefits UK consumers and business, and allows us to align ourselves most effectively to where 90% of global growth is expected by the International Monetary Fund to be in the next five years or so, which is outside Europe.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but he is not addressing the specific concern that the tariff schedule could hurt domestic producers by stifling FDI in precisely the places in the country that need it most. Are the Government really going to ignore industry concerns, potentially costing jobs?

I would have hoped that, after sufficient time in the House, the hon. Lady might have understood how a consultation worked. The consultation closes today, and I cannot comment on a consultation that has not yet closed. What I can tell her is that, as she will be delighted to hear, under this Government the UK has attracted more FDI than any other country in Europe. Indeed, we have attracted more FDI in aggregate than Germany and France combined. If she and her colleagues on the Labour Front Bench were to support business and enterprise in the way we do, instead of opposing them, we might see more jobs and prosperity.

With Northern Ireland being recognised as the cyber-security capital of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, will the Minister outline what steps are being taken to highlight this massive international market?

As I said in an earlier answer, I was pleased to meet Northern Ireland representatives in No. 10 Downing Street yesterday. When I visited Belfast last year, I learnt more about the phenomenal tech, and in particular cyber, capability there is in Belfast. The Department is determined to make sure that the message of how investable and how strong Northern Ireland is, and what great capability it has, is understood through all our posts in countries around the world.

There has been a huge amount of foreign direct investment in the financial services sector, not only in London but throughout the regions and in Scotland. Can my hon. Friend assure me that, in all free trade negotiations, the interests of the financial services sector will be protected?

I thank my hon. Friend, who characteristically puts her finger on an important point. Services have too often not had sufficient focus in trade agreements. We are very much looking to put financial services, data and other elements at the heart of our trade policy, which will be great for the City of London. However, it is important to note that there are more people working in financial services in the northern powerhouse than there are in the whole of Frankfurt.

Renewable Energy: Exports

We are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to maximise the overall economic impact of our world-leading renewable energy sector, including that of exports. The Department undertakes a range of promotion activities, including running trade missions and dedicated workshops.

I thank the Minister for that response. What support has the prosperity fund awarded to fossil fuel projects in developing countries, and how was that funding assessed in terms of the environmental and social impacts of those projects?

All investments by the prosperity fund are examined against the raft of UK Government policies, objectives and aims, and we do that in all cases in each continent of the world.

As the Minister is aware, the Grimsby and Cleethorpes constituencies are major centres for the renewables sector. Many of the smaller businesses are vital parts of the supply chain, and they would like to get more involved in exports. Will the Minister agree to meet me and a delegation from the local industry to explore the possibilities?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will be aware that the offshore wind sector deal, published in March 2019, sets an ambition of increasing exports fivefold to £2.6 billion by 2030. He and I, in our respective constituencies, have seen the transformation of the economics of offshore wind. We are now seeing UK Export Finance, for instance, financing major investments in Taiwan and other parts of the world, with UK exports and UK expertise, not least from my hon. Friend’s constituency, at the heart of that. I would be delighted to meet him.

17. A recent investigation by “Newsnight” and Greenpeace found that UK Export Finance is financing oil and gas companies that will emit 69 million tonnes of carbon a year—nearly a sixth of the UK’s annual emissions. It is ridiculous to talk about tackling climate change in this country when we are exporting our carbon footprint abroad. Will the Minister commit to phasing out this support by 2021? (901135)

The Government are investing £2.5 billion in clean growth innovation by 2021, as set out in the industrial strategy. The offshore wind sector deal commits the sector to investing up to £250 million, building a stronger UK supply chain. It is a transition—a transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner technologies—and we intend to drive that ever faster.

Foreign Direct Investment: Film and Television

6. What recent assessment she has made of the ability of the UK to attract foreign direct investment in (a) film and (b) television production. (901122)

Foreign investment in film and TV is booming. Just last month, I met representatives of the US’s Blackhall Studios, and they unveiled plans for a major investment in conjunction with Reading University, which should bring £500 million a year in inward investment to the UK. That studio alone is expected to employ 3,000 people and further strengthen the UK industry as a creative and economic triumph.

As everyone knows, Bolton is the new Hollywood. Having appeared in the Netflix show “The Stranger” and in “Top Gear”, which is filming in town today, Bolton has generated more than £200,000 in the past 12 months from being used as a film location. Will the Minister give an indication as to how a US-UK trade deal will benefit Bolton’s creative industries and cement our place as the newest leading media centre in the UK?

Smoothing access to the US through an FTA will help Bolton, and having such an excellent and film-ready advocate for Bolton as my hon. Friend, I look forward to him appearing, perhaps even with a speaking role, in future productions. It is notable that, in the past two years alone, we have seen the BBC, Netflix and Sky all using Bolton as locations for major productions, including “Peaky Blinders”, which I can certainly see him in; the “Last Tango in Halifax”, where he may be a younger love interest; “The Stranger”, although I know he never tries to be; and “Cobra”, which perhaps suggests his action credentials.

Mr Speaker, you should also know that the filming of the new Batman movie has been happening in my constituency in Glasgow.

Is it still the intention of the UK Government not to implement the EU copyright directive because of Brexit? If so, what analysis have they done on what impact that will have on foreign direct investment in film and the creative industries?

Now that we have departed the EU, we are determined to ensure that we remain the leading production hub globally, as we increasingly have been in film, not least thanks to the skill, expertise and beauty of the people and the places, including in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

Bilateral Trade Relations: Japan

Japan is the third largest economy in the world and a key partner of the UK. I visited Japan in September to promote UK trade and we are shortly likely to commence our free trade negotiations with it.

London 2012 offered an opportunity not only for Britain to showcase itself to the world, but for the competing nations to showcase themselves to the host nation. May I ask what steps the Department is taking to promote Great Britain at the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo?

I understand that Japan will be using a lot of British-made products in the Olympics, for example, the white water obstacles made by UK company RapidBlocs. During Tokyo 2020, we will be hosting a series of promotional events, and I look forward to Team GB celebrating its success with Scotch whisky and English sparkling wine.

Nissan is very important to the north-east and employs hundreds directly in my constituency and hundreds more via the supply chain. What further benefits will a new free trade agreement with Japan, which is currently being pursued by the Government, bring to manufacturers and suppliers in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nissan’s Sunderland plant is the most productive in Europe, and I can see every reason why the Japanese are likely to put even more investment there and make more cars there. There are opportunities through the Japan FTA and the US FTA where Nissan already exports from its UK factory.

Should not the Secretary of State be looking at the way in which we source things in this country—whether from Japan or China? We know that many of the drugs that we need to fight this virus are actually made in India, and it is not allowing us to have a full complement of imports. We also know that firms all over our country are closing down because China is the workshop of the world and it is exporting nothing. What is she going to do in the future to secure those supply chains?

First, we are participating in the efforts to tackle coronavirus through the cross-Government working group. The Prime Minister chaired a Cobra meeting on Monday to make sure that we are dealing with those supply chain issues. Furthermore, I expect the Trade Remedies Authority to play a strong role in making sure that we do not see the dumping of products on the UK market.

UK/US Trade Agreement: SMEs

8. What recent assessment she has made of the potential economic benefits to small and medium-sized enterprises of a trade agreement with the US. (901124)

Some 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises already trade with the United States. In the new free trade agreement, we will be asking for a dedicated SME chapter that removes customs red tape, does more stuff online and makes it much easier for our fantastic small businesses to trade with the United States.

Many businesses in South Ribble stand to benefit hugely from a free trade agreement with the USA—not least Leyland Exports, a commercial vehicle and silicone hose specialist. Does the Secretary of State agree that we must push hard to secure a free trade deal that benefits businesses of all sizes in all regions, and supports supply chains?

My hon. Friend is right. I understand that Leyland Exports can face up to 25% tariffs on the export of goods vehicles to the United States, and 5% tariffs on its exports to Australia. In the free trade agreements we are looking for from the United States and Australia, one of our key asks will be to get rid of those tariffs, and to make it much easier for the car industry—by reducing testing and red tape—to ensure that we can get our fantastic exports into those markets.

UK Ports of Entry

9. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the preparedness of UK ports of entry to facilitate international trade after the transition period. (901125)

We are using the transition period to ensure that the UK rises to the challenges of leaving the European Union while being ready to take advantage of all the benefits. Work on ports preparedness is being led by the Cabinet Office’s border delivery group. I remind the House and onlookers that tonight is the closure of our consultation on the new UK global tariff.

Can the Minister ensure that virtual free ports will be considered during the free ports bidding process, so that we can protect existing jobs in the north-east as well as creating new ones?

The hon. Member makes an extremely good point, and that is one of the points of the free port policy. We launched the consultation last month with the Command Paper, and it closes on 20 April. It would not be proper for me to make comments specifically about the location of future free ports, but the Tyne port in particular is very important to this country, as it is the second largest vehicle port in the nation. Free ports are designed to support jobs, trade and investment.

UK/US Trade Agreement: Thames Valley

11. What assessment she has made of the potential economic benefits to the Thames valley of a trade agreement with the US. (901129)

An ambitious United States free trade agreement could boost the economy in the south-east, including the Thames valley, by £622 million in the long run, supporting the growth of key local industries such as professional business services, and automotive and digital businesses. The FTA presents a golden opportunity for the region, which has a thriving trade with America, with the equivalent of £14,000 of goods exported to the US every minute.

The Thames valley is home to many high- tech businesses, not least in the north of my constituency of Buckingham crossing into Northamptonshire at Silverstone Park. Can my right hon. Friend outline the steps he is taking to ensure that we are supporting high-tech businesses at places such as Silverstone Park to grow, prosper and bring global solutions in areas such as low-carbon transport, and that they are at the forefront of our negotiations for a free trade deal with the United States?

May I start by congratulating my hon. Friend yet again on being a brilliant new representative for the Buckingham constituency? The Silverstone technology cluster includes excellent tech and start-up companies such as Advanced Automotive Technologies, Altair Engineering, room44 e-bikes and many more. Those are exactly the kind of companies that we want to see exporting more to the USA and to benefit from fewer hurdles to trade. That is why both sides want an SME chapter in the trade deal.

The Government’s own figures show that a US trade deal could raise the north-east’s economy by a maximum of 0.4% a year and that a no-deal Brexit will cut the north-east’s economy by up to 10%. Is this the Government’s idea of levelling up—to destroy thousands of jobs in the north-east?

The hon. Member does not do this question justice. Our objective, of course, is to have both a very good free trade deal with the European Union and a new trade deal with the United States of America, which would have the potential to raise the gross value added of the north-eastern region by some £170 million. She should join us, work with us and ensure that the benefits of these deals can be heard by all her constituents across the region.

Global Exports: Tech Start-ups

We are a world leader in tech. Following our departure from the European Union, we have launched a new GREAT campaign that promotes everything from our agri-tech to our gaming capabilities. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), recently led a delegation to Las Vegas where he promoted UK tech at the Consumer Electronics Show.

To meet the challenges of our time, we must ensure that we create an environment where we encourage tech start-ups to set up, thrive and innovate. What are the Secretary of State and Ministers doing to ensure that tech start-ups in the west midlands are able to fulfil their potential?

Birmingham has the largest tech sector outside London. It has firms specialising in FinTech, games, health-tech and cyber-security. We will keep the UK at the top of the investment tree. Last year we saw investment in UK tech growing faster than in any other nation in the world. We need to keep at the forefront, and there are huge opportunities for our tech industry.

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in celebrating the fact that last year investment into the UK’s tech start-ups grew more than anywhere else in the world? Will she outline the steps she is taking to build on this fantastic achievement?

After we have left the European Union, we have a huge opportunity to strike new data and digital agreements with the rest of the world. We are looking for a data and digital chapter in the US FTA. We are looking for an advanced data and digital chapter with Japan. We have the opportunity to create a global powerhouse here in the UK.

As the Secretary of State said, the UK is a world leader in future technology, yet it is also assessed to be one of the sectors most at risk from Brexit. Therefore, new opportunities for tech sector start-ups are absolutely important. The Department was recently criticised by tech sector magazines for cutting funding for the tradeshow access programme, which is used by entrepreneurs in the tech sector to get to potential clients overseas. So will she set out what funding will be available, and with what long-term guarantees for those SMEs and start-ups, so that they can make the best of opportunities through the TAP?

I disagree with the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to set our own rules and regulations in tech, and really lead the world in areas like artificial intelligence and blockchain. That is exactly what we are seeking to do with these new free trade agreements. We are also seeking, at the World Trade Organisation, to lead in areas like the joint statement on e-commerce, and looking for new SME-friendly chapters in our trade deals to help exactly these types of tech start-ups to sell their goods around the world.

Trade Agreements: Non-EU Countries

14. What recent progress she has made with her non-EU counterparts on negotiations for future trade agreements with those countries. (901133)

As we said earlier, only this week we have launched our negotiating platform for a free trade agreement with the United States. Those for Australia, New Zealand and Japan will follow in due course, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will set those out. My role within the Department is to support her in scoping out and assessing the potential for future free trade agreements around the rest of the world.

In reality, the roll-over deals struck to date amount to just 8% of our existing total trade, yet we were told that all this would be sorted by one minute past midnight on 31 March last year. Are the US negotiations being conducted in tandem with the EU ones, with fully trained teams aware of what each other is doing so that that can be factored into any future relationship? I am sure that other countries will be thinking the same, particularly as our objectives seem to be so divergent from the US’s “America first” aims.

I understand that the hon. Lady attended a briefing yesterday on the negotiations, led by our brilliant chief negotiator. She asks whether we are pursuing concurrent trade negotiations with the EU and the United States. The answer is yes we are, in exactly the same way that the EU is currently negotiating with the United States.

Further to that question and to the question asked by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney), I want to be absolutely clear about one thing: there is no such thing as an Australian free trade deal with the EU. An Australia-terms Brexit is actually a no-deal Brexit, and no amount of spin or repackaging can hide that fact. Does the Minister think that no deal is an acceptable outcome, given the near apocalyptic conclusions of his own Government’s Yellowhammer report, which talked about two and a half day waits at ports for lorries? Is that acceptable?

A free trade agreement with the European Union is our ambition, and we hope that it shares that ambition. Our ambition is also to engage in free trade negotiations, which the Secretary of State is leading on, with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the first instance. I can tell the hon. Gentleman and sceptics on the Opposition Benches that the interest in the opportunities for the United Kingdom to engage bilaterally around the world, now that we control our own independent trade policy for the first time in almost 50 years, is almost unquenchable—I think of the conversations we have had in the last six months with the Gulf Co-operation Council, Vietnam, Brazil, Chile, Morocco, Algeria and Commonwealth Trade Ministers. I just hope that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will welcome the opportunities that we are giving them to trade with the world and enjoy ever increasing prosperity.

Is the collective mind of Government concentrated on ensuring that these deals are shared across the entirety of the United Kingdom?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. The answer is unequivocally yes. We are determined that the entire United Kingdom—all nations and every region of it—will benefit, and I had the pleasure of returning home to Northern Ireland only a couple of weeks ago to talk about those ambitions with the Executive and businesses in Northern Ireland.

Trade Strategy

15. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s trade strategy. (901134)

UK exports are at a record high, with the latest figures showing exports of £689 billion—up 5% on 2018. We are committed to doing even more, building on the measures in our export strategy. Just last month, we launched a new business support campaign, helping businesses of all sizes to fulfil their exporting potential.

Over the last few weeks, the good residents of Ilford South have been writing to me in greater and greater numbers because they are concerned about the sectarian violence we are seeing in some of our Commonwealth partners in certain regions of the world. Can the Minister reassure me and the residents of Ilford South by telling us what steps he will take to ensure that the Government’s trade strategy always promotes human rights abroad and does not embolden or reward regimes or Governments who oppress communities that are a minority in number?

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to highlight the issue of trade’s role in parts of the world where human rights are being breached. Right across the Department, we seek to ensure that all such considerations are taken into account, while recognising the need to engage with regimes that may have less than perfect Governments, for the benefit of the people there. It is a balance that we take very seriously, and I look forward to further discussion with him to get it right.

There are lessons for our strategy arising from Japan’s rather unsatisfactory negotiations with the EU, are there not?

We could look at Japan, or we could look at Mercosur, which took 20 years of negotiation. Some say that the UK shorn of the heft of the EU will be less able to do deals. There are ways in which that would be true, but fundamentally, with agility, as many countries have shown, we can do more deals more quickly and, most importantly, bring greater prosperity, employment and opportunity to my right hon. Friend’s constituents and mine as a result of the UK having its own independent trade policy for the first time in 40-odd years.

Topical Questions

Following our departure from the EU, the UK has established itself as an independent trading nation. On Tuesday, I was the first UK Trade Secretary in almost 50 years to make a speech at the World Trade Organisation representing the UK as an independent trading nation. We will use our position at the WTO to champion free trade, champion reform and make the case for liberalisation in digital and services. Mr Speaker, I can tell you that Britain is back.

The British Egg Industry Council recently commissioned a report on the impact that changes to import tariffs would have on UK egg producers. The report particularly highlighted concerns about cutting import tariffs on egg products when they come from countries with much lower welfare standards. How does my right hon. Friend plan to protect the good eggs, such as St Ewe Free Range Eggs in my constituency, which produces the finest free range eggs money can buy, against the bad eggs from countries with lower welfare standards?

The consultation on the UK global tariff, which will set the most favoured nation tariff rate for eggs, among other products, closes tonight, so I suggest that my hon. Friend gets the eggs-cellent company in his constituency to put in a submission to the consultation and make its views known.

The Secretary of State will be familiar with the Brexit voucher scheme that has been launched by the Irish Government to support small and medium-sized enterprises trading across borders and affected by Brexit. The Dutch have introduced a similar scheme paying grants of over €2,000 and loans of up to €1.5 million. What assessment has she made of those measures and whether they are compliant with state aid rules, and if they are, why has she not introduced any similar measures to support our own SMEs, which face unknown tariffs, increased checks and inspections, and substantial delays to their trade?

We are working very closely with the Cabinet Office to make sure that businesses have all the information they need to prepare for transition at the end of this year. This is also an opportunity, of course, to get more businesses trading with the rest of the world, and we will be saying more about this soon in our new export strategy.

T2. My constituency of South Cambridgeshire is not just the life sciences capital of the UK or of Europe, but it claims to be the life sciences capital of the world. It has the global headquarters of AstraZeneca, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, which is leading the world in genome sequencing, and Abcam, a start-up company now worth £3 billion, which is leading the UK in antibody products. Many of these firms are exporters. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the commercial opportunities for them of a potential UK-US free trade agreement? (901140)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. When I was previously in this job, I visited the sector in Cambridgeshire. We know that the life sciences industry contributes £74 billion a year to the economy, creating 250,000 jobs and developing life-saving medicines for UK patients. Annually, the east of England exports £711 million of medical and pharmaceutical products to the US. Estimates show that a UK-US FTA could boost the whole region’s economy by £345 million in the long run.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress being made to ensure that the legal services trade between the UK and the European Union can be maintained after the end of this year?

That is properly a question for a different Question Time, because it is Taskforce Europe that is responsible for our future trading relations with the European Union. What I can say to the hon. Member is that the mutual recognition of professional qualifications is one of the key aspects we are looking at in free trade agreements with counterparties across the world.

I am glad that that is being looked at because, right now, if an agreement is not reached between the UK and the European Union, UK legal practitioners—lawyers—will no longer be protected by legal or professional privilege inside the European Union. May we have a specific focus on that to ensure that jeopardy is removed, but also, more importantly, to ensure that the associated disincentive to trade in legal services is removed?

Again, this is really a matter for Taskforce Europe, but I will pass on the hon. Member’s question to it to give him a more detailed response. What I can say is that the DIT team promote trade in legal services, particularly the mutual recognition of qualifications, in all our talks. I have done that personally in this role, and the Secretary of State is committed to doing so. We make sure that this is promoted, particularly regulator to regulator, including for legal services, accountancy, architecture and all our professional services.

T4. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the free trade agreement will benefit the whole of the UK, including my constituency of Ynys Môn in north Wales, which will be disproportionately affected by the collapse of Flybe overnight? And does she agree that the port of Holyhead is a prime candidate to be one of the new free ports? (901142)

My hon. Friend has been lobbying extremely hard for Holyhead to be considered as a free port, and we are very grateful for all her input to the free port consultation. She is right, of course, that a US free trade deal will benefit every single part of the United Kingdom, including Wales. There are particular opportunities for the export of Welsh lamb into the United States, where it is currently not allowed. I also agree that we need to ensure—I know the Transport Secretary is working hard on this—that we continue to keep routes open and that new companies can operate those flight routes, which are so vital for our connectivity.

T3. Last summer, the Government were found to have unlawfully committed arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. In September it emerged that this ban had been repeatedly violated. In response, last month the Secretary of State said processes had been updated. If she genuinely wants to give confidence that this Government will not put the interests of arms dealers ahead of human rights yet again, will she commit to an immediate embargo on all arms exports to Saudi Arabia? (901141)

I was very clear in the statement I made to the House that there had been problems with our process. I subsequently issued a written ministerial statement, followed by an internal review conducted by another Government Department.

We have now fixed that problem. The information is now being provided in real time, and that fulfils the requirements of the court order.

T5. [R] Israeli exports to the UK grew by 286% over the last decade, and bilateral trade levels are also at a record high, so it was no surprise that one of the first post-Brexit trade agreements we signed was with Israel. What steps will the Secretary of State be taking to further strengthen and enhance our trade relationship with Israel and go beyond the terms of the continuity agreement that is already in place? (901143)

We strongly value our trading relationship with the state of Israel and are working closely with the Israeli Government to implement the UK-Israel trade and partnership agreement, but my hon. Friend is absolutely correct to identify the opportunities for us to do so much more. In my constituency, the town of Bournemouth is twinned with Netanya in Israel, and I have seen first-hand the opportunities in the innovation and tech sectors. We are working with Israeli counterparts to host a UK-Israel trade and investment conference in London, whose primary focus will be scoping out and identifying new opportunities for collaboration between Israel and the United Kingdom.

T7. Bearing in mind the latest comments coming from the US, what steps will the Minister take to provide legal safeguards and reassure the British public that our food and animal welfare standards will not be at risk in a US-UK trade deal? (901146)

The hon. Lady can see that laid out in black and white in our objectives: we simply will not do a deal that undermines our food safety standards, and we will also retain our very high animal welfare standards. That is very clear and, ultimately, if the US is not prepared to agree to that, we will walk away.

T6. The Secretary of State knows that I am very excited about the prospects for Scotland to grow its exports. Scottish Development International does a good job, but it does not have, as it would concede, the global reach of her Department. So to ensure that Scottish businesses get the maximum support going forward to grow exports, will the Minister commit today to increase the Department’s presence on the ground in Scotland? (901144)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who sets an example—not least to the party over there, the SNP—in championing the interests of Scottish workers and Scottish business, regardless of politics. [Laughter.] The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) laughs, but all too often she sits there and says—as she did just now, chuntering from a sedentary position—“We don’t want it”: she does not want more resource from the UK Government to support Scottish business. If ever we had an example of how the separatist SNP put that single agenda ahead of the interests of the Scottish people, that was it. Thank the Lord that we have Members like my right hon. Friend to stand up for us.

T8.   Is the Secretary of State confident that the Government stance in the EU trade negotiations meets the needs of successful horticultural businesses such as Seiont Nurseries in my constituency, whose time-sensitive exports just will not thrive with delays at the ports, regulatory divergence and punitive tariffs? (901147)

We are leaving the EU so that we can make our own regulatory decisions, including about how we manage our agriculture and horticulture. Of course we want to get the best possible free trade deal with the EU, but that does not mean continuously harmonising with its regulations.

The top source market of foreign direct investment projects coming into the UK continues to be the United States, by a considerable margin. Does that not underline the importance of Heathrow and of the transatlantic aviation route as an enabler of those deals? Will the Minister confirm that the Government are still committed to growth in that important market?

My right hon. Friend is correct to highlight the importance of Heathrow and transatlantic links with the US and beyond—not only for exports, but for foreign direct investment. I am sure that he and the rest of the House will be kept informed as Government policy develops.

T9. In the middle of last year, I visited the port of Rotterdam, a major trading port for us—for goods from not just within the EU but outside it as well. At the time, that port was taking on more than 300 new customs officers and more than 100 new vets for the trade in animals and animal products. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the UK ports are making similar arrangements? If so, can she give the House an estimate of the cost? (901148)

We are making extensive preparations at our ports to cater for all possible scenarios of outcome from the current talks with the European Union; we are very much following the philosophy of preparing for the worst but working for the best. We are making sure that, across Government, all the resources will be in place to deal with a whole range of eventualities as they may arise at the border.

Last weekend, worrying comments were reported in the Mail on Sunday questioning the need for UK farming and agriculture for our economy. This is at a time when farmers’ fields are saturated and they are lambing in really difficult conditions—they did not need that over their cornflakes on Sunday. Will my right hon. Friend give Stroud farmers and farmers across the UK confidence that the Government will stand up for them in all trade negotiations, and will she reconfirm their importance to our economy?

My hon. Friend is right: British farming is vital, for its food production, for its custodianship of the environment and for the enjoyment it provides in all our lives through its fantastic products. She will notice from the US negotiating objectives and scoping statement that agriculture will benefit, because there will be more opportunities to export our fantastic lamb and beef and we can cut tariffs on dairy products. There are lots of opportunities, and I want British farmers to take them up.

Unlike that Government aide, in the north-east we know that we do need farmers—not least because they protect our glorious Northumberland and County Durham countryside. Can the Secretary of State give a commitment to protecting the small-scale farmers and their high-welfare and farming standards in any trade deal?

As the hon. Lady will be aware, we are developing new farming support policies to supersede the common agricultural policy. Those will be much more suited to British farmers, making sure that we are supporting farmers to protect the environment and produce great products. In our trade agreements I have been very clear that there will be no diminution in our standards.

Some of our closest friends and most productive trading relationships have always been in the Commonwealth, and it is time that this was reinvigorated. What are Ministers doing to explore Commonwealth free trade?

I hosted a meeting in London last year with the Commonwealth Trade Ministers. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm to work more closely together. One of our first priority trade deals will be with Australia and New Zealand. We are also creating a Commonwealth caucus at the World Trade Organisation. Commonwealth countries represent 33% of delegates to the WTO. We can be a real force in making the case for free trade and for small countries not to be overwhelmed by big trading blocs.

What action is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that food standards are upheld in future trade agreements, specifically to protect infant and child health?

We are very clear that in future trade agreements, we will maintain our food standards. We were clear about that in the US objectives and we will be clear about it in subsequent objectives.