The Secretary of State was asked—
UK-Canada Free Trade Agreement
I spoke to my Canadian counterpart Mary Ng last week, and we talked about progressing our bilateral trade and working together to promote free trade across the world.
Bilateral trade between the UK and Canada is worth £20 billion a year. It grew exponentially following the implementation of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement. By comparison, our bilateral trade with New Zealand is worth £3 billion a year. We have opened formal negotiations with New Zealand on a new trade agreement. Can we not go further with Canada and seek something much more comprehensive than simply a roll-over of CETA?
I know that my hon. Friend is committed to Canada, having served as trade envoy and done a fantastic job. As part of our ambitious free trade agreement programme, we announced yesterday our intention to accede to the CPTPP, which is an advanced trade agreement covering chapters such as data and digital and goes far beyond what the EU has been willing to agree. Canada is one of the key players in the CPTPP, alongside countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
Free Trade Agreements: Environmental Protection Standards
The Government are committed to meeting their ambitious environmental objectives. We are exploring all options in the design of future trade and investment agreements, including environmental provisions within those, to ensure that we uphold the UK’s high environmental standards.
Last year’s free trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada ran to 250 pages but failed to mention climate change or global emissions. What assurances can the Minister give the House that the free trade agreement being negotiated by his Government between the UK and the US will not make the same mistake and will put climate change at the heart of it?
The hon. Lady raises a good question. The UK is absolutely committed to our international climate change agenda; that is one of our key objectives. We have not included that because the US is withdrawing from the Paris accord, which we regret. She mentioned the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement. That agreement does include 30 pages of environmental commitments, including, for example, on sustainability, forestry, air quality, marine plastics, multilateral agreements and so on. There is plenty of potential for us to go further on the environment with our US trade agreement.
There is no point in the UK achieving our own zero-carbon targets if the trade deals we reach with other countries are pushing them ever further away from achieving theirs. Can the Secretary of State ensure that all future FTAs agreed by the UK reinforce the legal primacy of emission targets established in the Paris climate change agreement?
It is worth pointing out that nothing in any trade agreement would prevent the UK from reaching its targets under the Paris agreement and to go net zero by 2050—we are the first Government to commit to doing that, and no trade agreement will prevent us from doing that. We remain on the front foot in our advocacy, making sure that the international response remains extremely strong, including through multilateral agreements and the UK contribution to the global climate fund.
Last year, Brazil lost an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire, and the new land reforms proposed by the Bolsonaro Administration will make the scale of deforestation and commercial exploitation in the Amazon even worse. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what environmental conditions are attached to his Department’s £20 million trade facilitation programme with Brazil? Will he promise to suspend that programme if the Bolsonaro Administration persist with their proposed land reform laws?
This question is about trade agreements, and it is worth pointing out that we are not currently in negotiation with Brazil on a trade agreement. The European Union is, by the way. When it comes to trade agreements, the right hon. Lady needs to get her own house in order. Yesterday at this very Dispatch Box, she praised EU trade agreements with Pacific rim countries in the CPTPP. The only problem for her is that those on the Labour Front Bench voted against CETA and did not support the EU-Japan agreement. Worst of all, she led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill—
The Labour Front Bench at the time. She led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill, which would roll all these EU trade agreements over to become UK trade agreements.
Chris Loder, who had the next Question, is not here, but I will still take the SNP supplementary questions—I call Stewart Hosie.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Scottish Land and Estates has said that food and farming is critical, and it is concerned that UK producers are not placed in an impossible situation where they have to compete in an effective “race to the bottom”. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give that cheaply produced agrifood imports will not lead to that race to the bottom?
First, we have the independent Food Standards Agency, which is committed to high food standards. All the food standards that are currently with us through EU law are put into UK law as a result of the withdrawal agreement, so those standards are not going to be lowered, and they are not going to be negotiated as part of any trade agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but I did not ask about food quality standards; I understand that. I am asking about production standards. As the National Farmers Union of Scotland has pointed out, there is deep concern about the importation of agrifoods into the UK that may be produced to an inequivalent and uncompetitive standard. How will she guard against agrifood imports produced to that inequivalent standard, which is much cheaper and simply could not or would not be done in the UK?
Scottish beef and lamb is a very high-quality product and highly competitive. When the beef ban is ended with the US, we will have the opportunity to get British beef into the US market—there is £66 million-worth of opportunity for that product—but in every trade agreement I negotiate, I will always make sure that our farmers, with their high standards, are not undermined.
Food standards were not a matter for the Agriculture Bill—at least that is what MPs, including Conservative Back Benchers, were told on Report. They were told that they would be included in the Trade Bill. I am sure Agriculture Ministers were telling the truth, so will the Government accept Labour’s amendment to the Trade Bill to enshrine in law the principle that food imported under any free trade agreement must maintain our farming industry’s high production and safety standards?
The reason they were not part of the Agriculture Bill is that the import standards that we already have and which already ensure that we import only high-quality products into this country are being transported into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That is already there. There has been a lot of scaremongering going around about these lowered standards. That is simply not true. We are maintaining exactly the standards we have, which are in place, for example, through agreements with Canada.
Richard Holden—another one not here. Oh my word. We now go virtual—to Angus Brendan MacNeil.
Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. We hope to see the Secretary of State at the International Trade Committee next week, as requested by Committee members for a number of weeks. At yesterday’s Committee hearing, the NFU, the CBI and the TUC all coalesced around the figure that Brexit would cost the UK about 4.9% of GDP and an American trade deal would benefit it by around 0.16% of GDP—a thirtieth of what is being lost by Brexit. They said that gains from the Japan deal would be a lot less than the paltry lot from the US deal, so can any Minister furnish the House with the figure for what would be gained as a percentage of GDP from a Japan-UK trade deal?
First of all, I am extremely happy to appear in front of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, and I will ask my office to immediately set that up in the diary. I am very keen to communicate with the Committee about the various trade deals we are negotiating.
We published figures for the scoping study on the Japan free trade agreement, but this is not an either/or. We want to get a good trade deal with the EU. We want to get a good trade deal with the US. We also want to get access to CPTPP, which is a very fast-growing part of the world. That is what we want. We want global Britain to sit at the heart of a network of free trade agreements.
In March, the Government said that Japan must show “increased ambition” and set a higher headline target on reducing carbon emissions ahead of COP26. Is that still the view of the Secretary of State? Will she show increased ambition and include more stretching, measurable and binding climate targets in the new free trade agreement she puts in place with Japan?
We have a huge opportunity to achieve our environmental objectives in many of the free trade agreements we are negotiating. For example, with New Zealand, which is a leader in this area, we will be looking for very advanced environmental clauses, and of course we will seek those in negotiations with Japan. But the hon. Gentleman should understand that there are a number of routes through which we are pursuing our objectives, namely our leadership of the COP26 summit, and it is right that that process should be the primary focus of where we achieve our climate change objectives.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on Cornwall
I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of business in his constituency, including the dairy industry. I can assure him that every region and nation will benefit from our trade deals, and that includes every industry from farming to FinTech to boot. In the south-west, exports of dairy amounted to more than £46.7 million last year and these businesses stand to benefit even further from the removal of US tariffs.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in his ministerial position.
Whether it is our excellent butter, cheese and cream, our amazing beef and lamb, our stunning fish and seafood, or our beer, wine and gin, Cornish food and drink are among the highest quality and most sought after in the world. The Minister will be aware that food producers are concerned that our high standards will be undermined in trade deals, so what reassurance can he provide to Cornish food producers that their interests will be protected, and what opportunities does he see for export?
We go back to the Minister, who looks as though he is a fan of James Bond—“Dr No” no less.
Who wouldn’t be, Mr Speaker?
Like my hon. Friend, I am also proud of the high-quality produce from British farmers, including from those in Cornwall, and I can assure him that trade deals will help to deliver economic security for Britain and protect us all from new trade barriers and tariffs that could harm jobs and industry. I can assure him that Cornish food producers will be supported at every turn and will continue to be highly competitive. Negotiations will certainly reward them through providing access to new markets.
Covid-19: Import of Essential Medical Products
We continue to work tirelessly across government to secure vital equipment and PPE from overseas partners, including from the US, Malaysia, China, Turkey and South Africa. We have sourced more than 18 billion items from across the globe to be shipped and delivered to the frontline to our NHS.
As the Minister will be aware, many imports such as medical products enter the UK as cargo in the hold of passenger flights. Given that the imposition of an illogical quarantine is having a negative impact on passenger confidence and flights coming into many of our regional airports, such as Luton airport in my constituency, will the Minister confirm whether he made any assessment of the impact of quarantine on the import of medical goods, and, in the light of that, does he agree with me that the quarantine should be lifted for less blunt measures, such as fast-track testing, to facilitate the import of medical goods and support the recovery of our aviation industry?
I have to say, Mr Speaker, that I was woken at 4.40 this morning by a passenger flight coming into Heathrow and then by another one at 4.45 am. It strikes me that although passenger traffic coming into the country is much reduced, it is still very much facilitated. I am not aware that any disruption that may be caused by the quarantine regulations is having any direct impact on our ability to import vital PPE into the country.
I am very impressed that the right hon. Gentleman knows the difference between a cargo flight and a passenger flight.
At the last International Trade questions in May, my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) asked about reducing global tariffs on soap, which average at 17% among World Trade Organisation members and range as high as 65% in some countries. The Minister of State said that it was a very good question and that the Government were working tirelessly to reduce or remove those sorts of barriers. I am sure that that has been the case, so will he tell us what progress he has made on the specific issue of soap tariffs over the past month?
Mr Speaker, you will know that on 20 March, which was the start of the UK lockdown, the EU Commission wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and HM Treasury alerting them to the existence of the potential mechanism by which tariffs in VAT could be waived on certain imports in the light of the covid-19 crisis. We have identified more than190 products that are in scope, ranging from PPE to soaps and disinfectants. When these products are imported by an organisation covered by the relief, the tariff will be zero.
Promoting UK Agriculture Exports
Our food and drink sector is vital to our economy. In 2019, exports increased by nearly 5% to £23.7 billion. We want to see that success continue and will shortly be launching a bounce back strategy for the industry as the world recovers from covid-19.
I am grateful for that answer. I draw your attention, Mr Speaker, to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There are significant opportunities to increase agricultural exports, but for the UK to make the most of them, there is a need to dramatically increase food and drink processing capacity. What discussions has my hon. Friend’s Department had with the Treasury, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, to ensure that the right fiscal and grant arrangements are in place?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. My Department is working closely with DEFRA, BEIS and Her Majesty’s Treasury to understand the market and investment trends in the agriculture and food processing sector in a post-covid environment. The Department for International Trade’s high potential opportunity—HPO—programme, which is part of our levelling-up agenda, is already attracting investment in food and drink programmes throughout the UK. For instance, there is agricultural engineering in Telford and aquaculture in Dorset. However, we want to do more, which is why, in partnership across government and as part of our forthcoming export strategy, we will work to identify new investment opportunities in the sector and its supply chain, so that UK agriculture’s full potential can be realised internationally.
UK Tech Sector
I know that my hon. Friend is, like me, proud that the UK tech sector is the dominant and most successful in Europe. With 79 unicorns and counting, last year the sector attracted a third of all European tech investment—more than France and Germany combined. That success has continued this year, and just last week the Secretary of State launched a new tech strategy to support the internationalisation of our firms, including a digital trade network across the Asia Pacific.
British entrepreneurs are at the cutting edge of developing technology medicines—from apps to medical devices—in the fight against coronavirus. What support is my hon. Friend giving to our health tech start-ups to access overseas markets where British innovation can help to save lives?
My hon. Friend is right: companies such as Cambridge-based C2-Ai, which last week won the CogX award for covid-19 health innovation, are leading the way in the UK’s cutting-edge health tech sector. C2-Ai saves lives by predicting avoidable harm and mortality to free up capacity in intensive care units for covid-19 patients. My Department is supporting dozens of firms just like C2-Ai that are looking to provide covid-19-related treatments. We have also produced a directory of those British digital health companies that provide covid-19 solutions and shared that with our international network, in response to inquiries from Governments around the world.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on Blyth Valley
In 2018, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear exported goods worth £496 million to the US, £130 million to Japan, £24 million to New Zealand and £216 million to Australia. Against a backdrop of rising trade barriers, our FTAs will secure and protect existing trade, and, according to our analysis, FTAs with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand will go further and bring additional export opportunities to every part of the country, including Blyth Valley.
In Blyth Valley, we have many successful companies that trade globally. As we move closer to the deadline of 31 December 2020, will my hon. Friend please advise the House what steps the Department has taken to help companies such as Dräger Safety and Tharsus in Blyth, and Miller engineering and Renolit in Cramlington—to name just a few—so that they can take advantage of free trade agreements?
My team is developing a new export strategy, which will align DIT support for exporting businesses, such as the ones my hon. Friend mentions, with our FTA and market access work. In February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Tharsus and the Port of Blyth, and they emphasised to her how important data and digital chapters were for them. Blyth Valley companies will be supported by ambitious FTAs, an enhanced network of international trade advisers in the northern powerhouse and teams in 108 countries around the world.
Free Trade Agreements: UK Farming Exports
We are determined to remove barriers so that more of our fantastic British produce can be sold internationally. We have now become a net dairy exporter for the first time in recent years. A US-UK FTA can reduce tariffs of, for example, 26% on beef and more than 25% on some dairy products.
Some of my constituents in Bosworth have written to me concerned about food standards. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with DEFRA regarding the Food Standards Agency to guarantee that the agency is fully supported to ensure and enforce that our food standards are up to scratch in our new trade deals as they come to fruition?
It is very important to note that we are not going to be lowering our food standards in any of our trade negotiations. British food standards—or certainly those in England and Wales—are a matter for the Food Standards Agency, and it is down to the agency to ensure that standards are upheld. Those standards are also in UK law, transferred as part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, so they are guaranteed, and the Food Standards Agency is an independent body designed to ensure that they are upheld.
Free Trade Agreements: Benefits for All Parts of the UK
When the UK left the EU, we had successfully signed trade continuity agreements with 48 countries, accounting for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018. Now we are seeking new trade agreements so that UK trade is diversified and better aligned with global growth. Analysis shows that the US deal, for instance, will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom, although Scotland and the midlands will gain most. That US deal could reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers for everything from Scottish cashmere to automotive manufacturing in the midlands, machinery manufacturing in the north-west and our world-class services sector in the south-east, the midlands, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
Does the Minister agree that the ports of Grimsby, Immingham, Hull and Goole, as part of a pan-Humber free port, offer a huge opportunity to UK plc and are a key element of levelling up areas such as mine?
The Humber ports contribute so much to the UK economy, providing a critical trade route into Europe and beyond. Like my hon. Friend, I am proud that the Humber is one of the busiest and fastest growing trading areas in Europe, is responsible for a quarter of the UK’s seaborne trade and hosts 30,000 international shipping movements each year, yet it can do so much more; and, with the help and support of my hon. Friend, it will do so. I cannot comment on any individual free port bids, but I encourage anybody who wants their views taken into account to respond to the Government’s consultation before it closes on 13 July.
Does my hon. Friend agree that trade options such as free port status will add a major boost to our local economies, and that free port bids, such as the one involving Carlisle Lake District airport in my constituency of Penrith and The Border, warrant serious further consideration?
As I have said, I cannot comment on individual free port bids, but as I am someone who was born and brought up in Carlisle, my hon. Friend can certainly expect support and sympathy in this part of the Government.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on the East Midlands
This is an important question. Free trade agreements will certainly help Britain to bounce back from coronavirus and will bring better jobs, higher wages, greater choice and lower prices to consumers and businesses across the country. In the east midlands, lower tariffs and barriers will help to diversify the supply chain and reduce reliance on any single country for businesses that seek to thrive in the new global trading network which we are going to be at the heart of.
I am particularly pleased that we are now finally able to open direct negotiations with some of our oldest and closest allies. Will my hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to support businesses in the east midlands to make the most of the new opportunities created by these future trade agreements?
As a newly independent trading nation, we will be able to champion free trade, fight protectionism and remove barriers at every opportunity. That includes tariffs. We will be trading on British terms with our new global tariff, which will cut red tape and cut costs for consumers and businesses in Gedling and in the region. My Department and our experienced international trade advisers will continue to support companies across the east midlands access exporting opportunities, and to provide export credit and insurance through UK Export Finance.
Free Trade Agreements: US and Japan
We have launched negotiations with both the US and Japan. We want to secure ambitious trade deals that benefit every part of the United Kingdom. Scotland is expected to be a particularly strong beneficiary from those deals.
Despite what the Secretary of State said in response to previous questions, there are persistent concerns about the lifting of the ban on pathogen reduction treatments, which would permit chlorine washes over food as part of future trade deals. That would be bad for us and bad for animal welfare. To address those concerns once and for all, will the Secretary of State commit to enshrining minimum food standards into law? If she will not, will she devolve the necessary powers to Scotland to allow us to do it for ourselves?
I would point out that Scotland has its own food standards agency, which is responsible for upholding food standards in Scotland. I would also point out that the standards already are in the law and will continue to be in the law.
Given what the Secretary of State—[Inaudible.]
I am afraid we will have to move on.
Free Trade Agreements: Freedom of Religion or Belief
The freedom of religion is a universal human right. The UK has a strong record of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally. Our strong economic relationships with trading partners allow the Government to have open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights and religious freedom. The Government will continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows that I lead for the Government on freedom of religion or belief as the Prime Minister’s special envoy and on taking forward the Truro report. The Minister also knows, from our previous work when I was a trade envoy covering Pakistan, that there was a GSP-plus—generalised system of preference—trade clause which meant that human rights had to be respected. Around the world at the moment under covid-19, religious minorities have suffered immensely. Can we ensure that our future discussions on trade cover fully and frankly our concerns on freedom of religion or belief and wider human rights?
My hon. Friend has done superb work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion and belief. He references the Truro report, which was set up by the previous Foreign Secretary. Its overall approach is very much endorsed by this Government. He also draws reference to his time as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan, when I worked with him very closely. The GSP-plus scheme will be rolled over into a UK scheme. Obviously, that will include key human rights obligations, including freedom of religion and expression.
UK-US Free Trade Agreement
We have just commenced round 2 of trade negotiations with the United States. Talks so far have been positive and constructive, but I am absolutely clear that we will only sign up for a deal that benefits all parts of the UK and all sectors of the UK.
In the absence of any final agreement between Britain and the EU on trading arrangements beyond the end of this year, is it not impossible for the UK and the US to have a meaningful discussion about the extent to which the UK’s regulatory framework can diverge from the EU’s in any future trade deal? Does that not mean that the chances of actually getting a deal with the US done and through Congress before the November election are virtually nil?
Let me be absolutely clear that we have not set a timetable for completion of the negotiations with the United States, because we are concentrating on getting a good deal rather than meeting any particular negotiation timetable. I am afraid that the hon. Lady is absolutely wrong with respect to the EU, because we have been clear that we are not aligned with EU regulations. We have our own independent regulatory regime and we are negotiating with all our trading partners, whether the US, Australia, New Zealand or Japan, on that basis.
The Government have repeatedly promised this House and the British public that they are committed to non-regression on food standards. However, there is great concern over a number of practices in the US that are currently banned in the UK, such as the widespread use of antibiotics to increase growth in animals. As the Government approach their negotiations on a trade deal with the US, does the Secretary of State accept that it is time to put that commitment to non-regression on food standards into law?
I could not have been more clear: these food standards are already in British law as part of the EU withdrawal agreement, and we are not negotiating those as part of our negotiations with the United States or any other trade partner.
Support for Small Businesses and the Self-Employed
I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the unprecedented support for businesses and workers, including small businesses and the self-employed, that this Conservative Government have put in place. SMEs are the backbone of our economy and will be at the heart of the Department’s new export strategy as our response to covid-19.
Do the Government recognise that, aside from covid-19, one of the biggest threats to small businesses in the UK is reaching the end of the transition period with no trade deal? What assessment have they made of the number of SMEs in the UK that would go bust if faced with the toxic combination of covid-19 and a no-deal Brexit in December?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of SMEs. They need Government support to enter international markets, and that is why the DIT exists. We are not responsible for negotiation with the EU, but we are confident that we will reach a good deal with it. The Department is putting SME chapters in our trade deals with other countries. It is a pity that the Labour party opposes every trade agreement and continually shows its indifference to small business and enterprise, but I am looking to the hon. Gentleman, as he may be able to do what no others have done and lead the shadow Secretary of State away from being an enemy of business and towards supporting it, as he does.
Free Trade Agreements: UK Car Manufacturers
The automotive industry will see more change in the next 10 years than it is seen in the past 100. That is why we are investing so heavily in research and development to ensure that the UK industry can be a global leader in clean transport. Lowering trade barriers is an essential step in attracting further investment and allowing the industry to thrive at a time of unprecedented change.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association say that a UK-Japan agreement would greatly benefit economic prosperity in the UK and Japan. What opportunities for the sector does the Minister see in future FTAs that would help businesses such as Ford UK, based in Basildon?
My hon. Friend and the SMMT are both right. Turkey—as well as Japan—is important, not least to Ford. We prize our trading relationship with Turkey and recognise how important Turkish supply chains are to our automotive manufacturers, including Ford of Britain. I am pleased to say that UK and Turkish officials are working hard to ensure that trading arrangements transition into a bilateral agreement at the end of the implementation period, and I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting, unlike the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), issues that will help prosperity, jobs and businesses in this country instead of posturing and posing for the benefit of the hard left.
UK Exports of Arms and Equipment
We assess all export licence applications on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. We draw on all available information, including reports from NGOs and our own overseas network. I can assure the hon. Lady that we will not license the export of equipment where to do so would be inconsistent with the consolidated criteria.
I thank the Minister for his response, but there is a worrying pattern here. Last year, the Secretary of State said that her Department had inadvertently allowed licences for arms destined for Saudi Arabia to use against Yemeni civilians. Now she has failed to answer the clear questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) regarding the export of riot control equipment to the US and its use against civilians involved in the Black Lives Matter protests. Is that because the Secretary of State has inadvertently allowed those exports, too, or does she simply not know what is happening in her own Department?
Not at all. The United Kingdom has issued licences to the United States in a number of different areas, and those have been provided in written answers to the shadow Secretary of State, but we continue to monitor developments in all countries, including the United States, very closely, and we are able to review licences, and suspend or revoke them as necessary, when circumstances require. That would be done in line with the consolidated criteria.
Arms export criteria state that licences should not be granted if
“there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression”.
In the light of the police in America using tear gas and rubber bullets, which may have been supplied by the UK, to attack Black Lives Matter protesters, will the Minister cancel licences involved in the arming of repression? On a technical point can he tell me whether tear gas equipment is covered by the open general export licence for the US-UK defence trade co-operation treaty?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I have just given. We will continue to monitor developments closely. We will review where necessary. On the technical points that she refers to, I welcome her probing question. We believe that criterion 2 is very important. It addresses the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination, and that is something that Her Majesty’s Government will certainly bear in mind as we review situations in the United States or elsewhere.
Free Trade Agreements: Human Rights
The UK has commenced trade negotiations with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The UK has a strong history of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally, and our strong economic relationships with like-minded trading partners allow the UK to open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights. We continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.
I thank the Minister for his response, but does he agree that the Government’s de-prioritisation of human rights in favour of trade has been exacerbated and highlighted by Brexit and has been part of a long-running trend dating back to the coalition Government? Pragmatism on human rights has been particularly clear when it comes to the promotion of trade, and there has been a conscious decision not to seek the inclusion of clauses relating to human rights in most of the post-Brexit agreements. The Government have listed 16 countries and trading blocs where negotiations are ongoing about rolling over existing EU trade deals beyond 31 December, so can the Minister tell us whether human rights are part of those discussions, and will he guarantee the inclusion—
Order. It has to be a question, and it has to be fairly short. I am sure the Minister has a grip of what he needs to say.
Let us be absolutely clear: there has been no relaxation or watering down of the UK’s complete commitment to human rights. That is valid right across the Government, including in the Department for International Trade and in trade deals. The hon. Lady referred to the continuity EU agreements. Part of the issue there is that the Cotonou agreement itself is expiring. What we have sought to do is to ensure that the practical outcome of that element of the existing EU trade deal is maintained in the rolled-over deal. That applies to such things as the Andean agreement and other agreements that we have with developing-world countries, ensuring that human rights remain at the core of the agenda and that there is no watering down of the human rights commitments in existing trade agreements.
We have launched trade negotiations with four of our closest partners: the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand—close allies with shared values, believing in democracy and free enterprise. We are prepared to walk away if any deal is not in the national interest. We will not lower our food standards. They are overseen by the independent Food Standards Agency and are in UK law. Ambitious free trade agreements will deliver on the Brexit promise to drive an industrial revival in this country and level up the UK.
I note the response that the Secretary of State gave to her opposite number earlier when talking about Brazil, but we are still trading with Brazil. Between 2013 and 2019, British financial institutions provided over $2 billion in financial backing to Brazilian beef companies linked to Amazon deforestation. How can we ensure that there is greater transparency in our supply chains so that we are not unwittingly, through exports from Brazil, contributing to such environmental degradation?
First, we are doing a lot of work on our supply chains, looking at vulnerabilities and resilience and making sure we have more transparency in supply chains. That work is being led through the Department for International Trade and Project Defend. Through our climate change negotiations, as we head towards COP26, that is precisely the type of issue that the Business Secretary will be looking at.
First, I praise the long-standing work that my hon. Friend has done in local government leadership over many years. Local government and councils will play a key role. This week, I have spoken to civic leaders, including Andy Burnham in Manchester and candidate Shaun Bailey in London, and impressed on them the importance of trade and investment decisions in our biggest cities. Trade and investment is a whole-UK effort involving all four nations, and all regions and cities, including councils and local government. I praise my hon. Friend for his work.
On Monday in Yemen, 13 civilians travelling by road, including four children, were killed in an alleged Saudi airstrike—the latest innocent victims of this barbaric war. A year ago this week, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is unlawful for the Government to license any more exports of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen, and ordered the Government to review all extant licences in the light of that judgment. A full year later, can the Secretary of State tell us whether that review of extant licences is complete and, if not, why not?
As the right hon. Lady knows from the written ministerial statement I made earlier this year, we have been reviewing our processes and making sure all the work we do is compliant with the consolidated criteria.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the fact is that, a year on from the Court of Appeal ruling, British firms are still exporting arms for use in Yemen, and that is unacceptable.
On a related issue, the Government refuse point black to tell us whether British-made tear gas and other riot equipment have been used in the United States over the past month. I ask the Secretary of State a very simple but important question that goes alongside that: does she condemn the tear gassing and beating of unarmed, peaceful protesters and journalists, and will she make it clear that riot equipment should never be used in that way?
Of course we are all extremely concerned about what has happened in the US—in particular, the killing of George Floyd. We are very, very concerned about that. However, we have one of the strictest arms licensing regimes in the world and we are absolutely clear—I have made this clear to the team—that we always comply with the consolidated criteria.
I thank my hon. Friend for her commitment to this important cause. I am convening a meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, due to take place this autumn, and the issue of female empowerment and entrepreneurship and the SheTrades initiative will be on the agenda for the meeting.
I am working very hard to get rid of the small ruminant rule in the United States, which prevents the export of our fantastic Welsh lamb to the market—[Interruption.] I hear the hon. Gentleman shouting from a sedentary position. The US is the second largest importer of lamb in the world. It is a massive opportunity for lamb. In fact, this afternoon, I have a call with some Welsh sheep farmers to talk to them precisely about these opportunities. I suggest that he gets behind the US trade deal rather than shouting from the Back Benches.
This is very opportune, because last week, I was the guest speaker at the Black Country chamber of commerce, and they were uniformly enthusiastic about the Government’s free trade agenda and trade and investment agenda. Perhaps if the Opposition were to go along, they might hear that, and some of this enthusiasm might rub off on them. I remember taking a question from a particular firm, Thomas Dudley, in the area about the roll-over of the CARIFORUM agreement with the Commonwealth Caribbean countries and the Dominican Republic. It was very concerned to hear that the Labour party is opposed to the Trade Bill, which would see the roll-over of that EU agreement and make an operable UK agreement. They were shocked at the seeming disregard by—[Interruption.]
Order. I think you have made the political points very well, but it is not an election yet—I think you can hold your fire a little bit longer. I would be more worried that people will be asking who you sat next to at the dinner.
We engage with the devolved Administrations on a regular basis. Baroness Morgan is my opposite number in the Welsh Government and we have a very good relationship, both on free trade agreements and on the whole relationship on trade between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. We make sure, through the ministerial forum for trade, that the devolved Administrations are updated and kept constantly apprised of our free trade agreement agenda. I look forward to continuing our excellent work with the Welsh Government.
I completely agree about the fantastic products such as Wensleydale, Yorkshire beef and lamb and all these opportunities. In fact, the first cargoes of British beef will be leaving UK ports this summer destined for America, now that the beef ban has been lifted. That is worth £66 million to the industry over the next five years. Of course, there is nothing nicer than a Sunday lunch and a nice bit of beef and Yorkshire pudding.
I thank the hon. Lady for her positive question about Chile. Chile is an important trade partner of the UK. Of course, it is a key member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we want to join. We want to have a better trading relationship with Chile and the 11 fast-growing members of that agreement.
As I have said, we are absolutely committed to maintaining our high animal welfare standards and our high import standards and also to making sure that our farmers do not face unfair competition. That is something I am going to negotiate in every trade agreement we are discussing. There are huge opportunities, such as with malting barley. We are the second largest exporter of malting barley into Japan, and there are fantastic malting barley producers all across Norfolk who will benefit from lower tariffs and more trade.
If the hon. Lady looks at the analysis of the US agreement, it shows that UK farming benefits. That is because people in the United States want to buy high-quality, high-welfare UK produce.
My hon. Friend will know that the Food Standards Agency is extremely well placed on this issue. He will know that the chair, Heather Hancock, sent a letter to all parliamentarians, which I recommend all parliamentarians read and digest. There was also a letter from the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade about the important work of this non-ministerial Government Department. To be clear, decisions on standards will be made separately from trade negotiations.
I have already answered a letter from the shadow Secretary of State on precisely this issue. Quarterly, we publish exactly which export licences we issue as a Department. We are completely transparent, and we operate in line with the consolidated criteria.
I can give my right hon. Friend an absolute assurance that all the regulations we currently have in place with the EU will be transposed into UK law. However, it is not the case that we ask other countries to follow our domestic regulations. We currently import produce from Canada on zero tariffs without those requirements. We currently import goods from the developing world without those requirements. What is very important, and what I am committed to in all the trade negotiations, is making sure that any deal we achieve does not undermine our domestic production standards.
Obviously, the whole of government is extremely concerned by the situation in Kashmir. It is primarily of course a matter for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that trade assists dialogue and assists countries and peoples to come together. In reference to India, we are having a JETCO—India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee—shortly to talk about trade between the UK and India. In relation to Pakistan, as I said earlier, we are rolling over the GSP-plus arrangements that the EU currently has with Pakistan, which also include a key human rights element. Making sure that dialogue continues and that trade continues will assist in that.
I am sure the House would like to be with me in prayers and thoughts for the sad news that Dame Vera Lynn has died—one of the great British icons.
In order to allow safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.