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UK/US Free Trade Agreement

Volume 672: debated on Thursday 5 March 2020

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.