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House of Commons Hansard
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12 May 2020
Volume 676
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What recent progress her Department has made on negotiating free trade deals. [902526]

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We will shortly be launching negotiations with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This is an important opportunity for the UK to form closer ties with a fast-growing group of countries and look forward to joining the CPTPP, which comprises 11% of the global economy.

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I warmly welcome the ambitious agenda that my right hon. Friend sets out. Can she confirm that any trade deal with the United States will not lower our standards on imported food and that these talks and the other ones she referred to represent a great opportunity for world-leading companies in west Norfolk such as Bespak and other pharmaceutical, engineering and manufacturing firms to benefit from reduced tariffs and the removal of other barriers to trade?

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I can confirm that we will not lower our food import standards as a result of the US deal. We are going to maintain those standards; it is an important part of the quality assurance we have here in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are lots of opportunities for Norfolk farmers and producers from a US trade deal, and overall the east of England stands to benefit by £345 million.

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Around a third of the value added of UK trade comes from indirect trade—indirect links—where goods and services are first exported to one country and subsequently exported to the UK. Given the importance of indirect trade and value chains generally, I am sure the Secretary of State would agree with the Dutch Trade Minister that we should rethink our trade deals to take a closer look at the sustainability of those value chains. Will she go further and agree that we should not just be looking at sustainability, but that trade deals should be as inclusive as possible and based on World Trade Organisation rules, and because of the importance of value chains and indirect trade—

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Order. I think the Secretary of State will have got the question.

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The hon. Gentleman is correct to say it is very important that we have resilient trade as well as trade that benefits our economy. That is why our strategy is to strike trade deals with more partners, to ensure that our companies have more options and that we are trading with a wider variety of nations than we were before.

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Our priorities for the last four years were supposed to be in this order: first, securing a free trade agreement with the EU; secondly, rolling over all our existing deals with third countries; and thirdly, agreeing free trade deals with the rest of the world. Can the Secretary of State explain why the Government have failed on all three?

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I would argue strongly that we are succeeding on all three of those aims. We have opened talks with the United States; David Frost is making significant progress in his talks with the EU; and we are making significant progress in increasing the number of countries that we are able to agree continuity trade deals with. We are on course to succeed in all those areas.

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As the WTO makes clear, coronavirus will lead to a substantial fall in global trade. It suggests a reduction in the range of between 13% and 32% in 2020. Although it is true that this is primarily a health issue, trade will be an important ingredient of the recovery, so does the Secretary of State agree with the WTO that keeping markets open and predictable will be crucial to secure the renewed investment that we need?

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I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman; he is right that protectionism would be a disaster for the global economy at the moment. That is why we have been pressing at the WTO to keep trade open, and why the UK has unilaterally lowered tariffs on key medical goods, to keep that trade flowing.

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Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the UK’s approach will be to chemicals regulation during any future trade negotiations? Will we retain the precautionary principle, or is she looking to relax our current laws?

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It is a very important principle that the UK Government have responsibility for their own regulations. That is not something that we will trade away in a trade deal; that is a matter for UK sovereign Government regulation.