The Secretary of State was asked—
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Business Engagement
This Government are committed to engaging business and farmers in our trade negotiations. Last Wednesday, I announced the creation of 11 new trade advisory groups to ensure that trade deals benefit the whole UK, from agriculture to the car industry.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. In my Bridgend constituency, the Ford factory is imminently to close and we hear that we may not be getting a much hoped for investment from Ineos, so our local economy is more dependent on small and medium-sized enterprises than ever before. What steps is her Department taking to engage with SMEs in particular to find out what they need as we negotiate free trade agreements with the rest of the world?
We have engaged with SMEs directly, and we are also working through organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce. What we are committed to is negotiating dedicated SME chapters in our trade agreements with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan to give our fantastic small businesses greater access to those markets.
I am sorry not to be able to be in the Chamber in person. I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is listening to British business, and I hope that she will listen to the millions of British workers and consumers who have an equal right to be heard when it comes to trade. With that in mind, may I ask her a simple, factual question: of the 162 individuals that she announced last week will be members of her new trade advisory groups, will she tell us how many of them represent trade unions, consumer groups or non-governmental organisations?
The right hon. Lady will be very pleased to hear that we will shortly be announcing new groups—the strategic trade advisory group, as well as groups consulting civil society and the trade unions—and that is the way that we will engage those organisations in our trade negotiations. I have already had meetings with environmental groups and with trade unions, and I am committed to continuing to do that.
The question really is: why do those groups really not merit being part of the trade advisory group, because of the 162 advisers that she has appointed, there is not a single person from a union, a consumer group or an NGO. Perhaps more important than anything else is that also excluded from the Secretary of State’s new advisory groups is the CBI, which previously sat on a group advising Ministers on continuity of trade for UK firms post Brexit—a group that has met nine times in the past year alone. Will the Secretary of State tell us why the CBI has been totally excluded, and why has the advisory group on continuity after Brexit now been totally disbanded?
We are reformulating the new strategic advisory group, which will contain some large business representative organisations alongside civil society groups, and we will be announcing that in due course. None the less, there is a difference between the detailed consultation that we need to undergo on the specifics of trade negotiation—for example, rules of origin for specific industries—and then the broader strategic advice on our trade policy. It is right that we are consulting the trade unions, the environmental groups and organisations such as the CBI on that broader strategy as well, and we will be announcing that in due course. The hon. Lady will not have to wait much longer.
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Food and Farming
We have established an agrifood trade advisory group to ensure that farmers and food producers are involved in the details of our negotiations. We have also launched the Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise and inform on agriculture, trade policies and export opportunities for UK farmers.
Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Speaker.
We are either facing a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit and, as a result, food and farming have taken on really great importance. It is an issue that has caused near meltdown for the new and already failing Tory leaders in Scotland, with the National Farmers Union, Scotland, giving them the yellow card for being misleading and leaving farmers fuming. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to ease farmers’ anger and consumers’ anxiety and state categorically that there will be no changing of food standards or any compromise whatsoever in any trade deal on the high standards of the food that now goes on our supermarket shelves?
NFU Scotland is not just fuming: it is telling us that that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives is misrepresenting its position. The reality is that the Scottish NFU is clear in its view that it wants the Trade Bill amended to ban food imports not produced to UK standards. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she is at least listening to NFU Scotland, even if she does not agree with it, and will she tell the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) to give a true account of the NFU’s views?
My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) is a huge champion of Scottish farming and the Scotch whisky industry, and I am working extremely closely with him. I am also working very closely with NFU Scotland, and it is involved in the Trade and Agriculture Commission. The fundamental principle of our trade policy is that we will not allow our fantastic farmers, whether in Scotland, Wales, Wales or Northern Ireland, and their great produce to be undermined. What we want them to be doing is exporting more around the world.
During the passage of the Trade Bill, farmers via the NFU and others, including doctors via the British Medical Association, expressed deep concerns that food standards in future trade deals could be under threat, allowing in, for example, vegetables from the US, where 72 chemicals are allowed that are currently banned in the UK. Given that the Government refused to legislate in the Trade Bill to stop the lowering of standards, how will the Secretary of State respond in her engagement with farmers to ensure that that will not happen in future?
In the EU withdrawal Act, all the import standards that we had as part of the EU have been transposed into UK law. Those import standards remain, and we will not be negotiating them away in any trade agreement. Furthermore, we have the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which is specifically involving organisations such as NFU Scotland, to ensure that British farmers get a fair deal and British consumers have products that they can have confidence in.
All that answer confirms is that there are no legislative protections in the Trade Bill and that MPs will have no say in any future trade deal except for potentially a “take it or leave it” choice after the negotiations are concluded. Given that Which? tells us that 95% of the public want to maintain current food standards, why do this Government continue to rule out real legislative protections in a trade Bill that would accord with the views of our farmers, our doctors and the general public?
These standards, such as the ban on chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, are already in UK law as part of the EU withdrawal Act. I have been explicit: it is not a matter for trade policy; it is a matter for our domestic law what standards we have in this country, and we are not trading it away, so it should not be part of any trade Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) speaks from a sedentary position. I do not think that it is the Government’s job to legislate twice for things that are already in legislation.
The standards governing infant formula in the UK are far higher than those in the US. Will the Secretary of State take steps to protect our youngest citizens from the additional sugars and colourants permitted in the United States but banned here?
Any product that is sold in the UK has to be subject to the rules of the UK. Those standards are set by Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in England and Wales, and those rules will not be changed as part of any trade deal with anyone, whether the US, Australia, New Zealand or Japan.
UK Exporters: Covid-19
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of exporters to the country’s economic recovery from covid. My Department is working closely with business to develop a new export strategy, deliver bounce-back plans for key sectors, sign free trade agreements with countries covering 80% of our trade, strengthen our regional teams to level up exporting success and challenge market access barriers whenever and wherever in the world they are found.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting UK Export Finance. It had its 100th anniversary last year and it is repeatedly voted the best export finance agency in the world. It has a range of products and trade experts across the four UK nations and in key locations globally—we have increased that number—making it ideally positioned to support UK exporters and their overseas customers during the pandemic. UKEF, as well as having an established and successful roster of products, is addressing the emerging needs of UK exporters and has come forward with new products, most notably recently the export development guarantee, which provides general working capital and capex to support the operations of eligible exporters, following a successful pilot. I am delighted to say that UKEF has so far provided EDG support to both Jaguar Land Rover and Ford Britain worth £500 million each, and more is in the pipeline, not least for small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Minister will know that businesses are concerned about the double disruption of covid and the end of the Brexit transition. The Government said that they would secure the rollover deals we need to replace those we enjoyed with more than 40 countries and trade blocs as members of the EU. Failure will leave business with increased costs, barriers and red tape, but in the last four years the Department has concluded just half the agreements it wants and not a single one since the start of this year. Will the Minister tell the House not how many are in discussion but how many will be secured in the remaining four months?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As he knows, the vast majority of the trade covered by those deals has already been secured in existing deals. Work continues and I am delighted to say that we continue to talk to those countries, as well as, as the original question suggested, supporting exporters, not least Edwin Jagger Limited, for instance, in his own constituency. That company is of particular note and could be of use to him, because it specialises in wet shaving and grooming. If it is good enough for the Chinese and the Americans, I suggest he that gets around to his local supplier.
Environmental Protection Standards: Future Trade Agreements
The Government are committed to meeting their ambitious environmental objectives. We are exploring environmental provisions in the design of our free trade agreements to ensure we continue to uphold the UK’s very high environmental standards. The precise details of each individual UK free trade agreement are a matter for the formal negotiations.
As we can see from the Extinction Rebellion protestors outside Parliament today and from our own inboxes as MPs, people hold environmental standards very close to their hearts. High climate standards are put at risk by leaving the European Union, which has the gold standard on environmental protections. What will the Government do, whether abroad with a country like Brazil or here in the UK, to protect the climate? The climate does cross borders so, whether at home or abroad, what steps will the Government take, with some energy, to protect the environment?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, which I think was very reasonably put, but actually we are doing a huge amount right the way across the board. We guaranteed in our manifesto no compromise on environmental standards in our future free trade agreements. The UK global tariff, which we published earlier this year, goes significantly further than the EU’s common external tariff in making sure that environmental goods are low-tariff or tariff-free. There are 104 tariff lines, including steam turbines, vacuum flasks and thermostats. We are also providing export finance in areas of renewable energy, such as solar energy and wind farms in Taiwan.
The former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said that the major role he played in his country’s trade negotiations was ensuring
“that we weren’t sidetracked by peripheral issues such as… environmental standards”.
Does his potential appointment as a policy adviser to the Board of Trade mean that that is the Government’s new approach? How can the Government reassure us that they do not now regard the environment as a peripheral issue?
The Government’s approach on the environment, and on the environment and trade, is unchanged. No appointments have been confirmed. Personally, I welcome the fact that a former Prime Minister of Australia is willing to help this country out. I think we should welcome his interest and welcome the endeavours he has the potential to make for this country on behalf of us all.
Palm oil production is having a devastating impact on wildlife and the environment in a number of countries, including Malaysia, and there is real concern among our constituents about the threat to orangutans. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will press ahead with a ban on palm oil imports after the end of the transition period? Will he also confirm that this Government will maintain that ban if we join Malaysia in the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?
The hon. Gentleman will remember the Prime Minister’s visit to Thailand and the region, and his speaking out about wildlife crime in that region when he was Foreign Secretary, including in relation to the pangolin, for example. You will remember, Mr Speaker, that the UK first published its statement on the sustainable production of palm oil in 2012, and the latest reports indicate that the UK achieved 75% certified sustainable palm oil importation in 2017, which compares with a figure of just 10% under the last Labour Government. We have taken the figure from just 10% to 75% in just 10 years.
Trade with the Indian Subcontinent
My Department continues to promote increased trade with the subcontinent. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I recently took part in the 14th annual UK-India JETCO—Joint Economic Trade Committee—during which we set a more ambitious trajectory for an enhanced trade partnership. Through our independent trade preferences scheme, we are strengthening our trading relationships with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh too, but our stronger trade ties are already delivering advantages for British businesses. I hope my hon. Friend will excuse a reference from across the Pennines, as I am pleased to announce today that Britain can now export polyhalite to India—it is an organic fertiliser mined in Yorkshire.
I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for his first questions, on his birthday—congratulations. Bolton-born company Vernacare has big international demand for its infection control products used in hospitals. However, such companies face inflated import duties when trading. Exporting to India is proving cost- prohibitive for some businesses, so does he agree that through increasing co-operation with India we will be able to explore the reduction of import duties and thus bear a bountiful boost for businesses in Bolton?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we can go much further, and increasing bilateral trade and investment with India will benefit both Indian and British businesses, and, of course, our peoples. Here at home this work will support businesses located in every corner of the country, including Vernacare, in his constituency. It is just one example of a company that my Department has worked with to achieve significant success in India already, including agreeing a five-year supply deal with Manipal, one of Asia’s largest healthcare management groups
Although the growth in trade, particularly in services, with India is good news, the UK’s trade in goods with India increased by just 5% in the past five years, while the rest of the G7 all saw double-digit growth, with the US and France seeing increases of almost 40%. There is not a UK trade envoy with India, and the Select Committee thinks that visa restrictions are holding Britain back. Why does the Minister think other G7 countries are doing so much better on trade in goods with India?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has joined the party in welcoming the fact that we will take back control of our trade policy. We will now have the chance to shape our relationship with India, which we have not had in the past. This Government have already delivered value to British businesses worth £250 million a year, based on industry’s own estimates, through unlocking exports of spirits, oats, pigs for breeding, poultry and lamb to India.
International Trade: Covid-19
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Covid has threatened global trade and exacerbated protectionism. Our ambitious free trade agreements—with the United States, Japan, New Zealand and Australia—will not only help Britain bounce back by boosting trade but secure greater choice for consumers here by opening up and liberalising international markets. For example, increasing transatlantic trade could add £3.4 billion to the British economy; and the value of our exports to our friends down under could increase by around £1 billion through the deals we are striving for.
My hon. Friend is right. There are no winners in a trade war. We will continue to shine as a beacon for free trade in the world, illuminating and toppling trade barriers through free trade agreements, boosting British influence at the G7, the G20 and the World Trade Organisation, and keeping free and fair trade at the heart of all that we do.
One of our great trade and export success stories in the tech sector is Cambridge-based Arm, the tech giant that designs the chip that goes into almost every mobile phone in the world. During the covid crisis, it has been subject to the threat of sale to an aggressive American manufacturer. What is the Government’s response? What discussions is the Minister having with colleagues to ensure that this jewel in our tech crown is not dismembered?
Arm is a very successful business, and I have regular conversations with colleagues in a number of Departments. The most important thing is that we ensure the environment in the UK is one in which all sorts of businesses want to work and, of course, that we preserve our national security.
Tariffs on UK Exports
We have been pushing hard to remove tariffs in all our trade agreements in order to benefit UK consumers and business, whether the 28% tariff on dinner plates to the US, Japanese tariffs on footwear or the 8% tariff on Tim Tams with Australia.
I am proud to say that since 1962 Crewe has been home to Whitby Morrison, a family-owned ice cream van manufacturer recognised as a world leader. It exports its vans to more than 60 countries worldwide, but it still faces considerable trade barriers. Will the Secretary of State assure me that in trade talks with Japan, the US, Australia and other countries, ice cream vans are on the list so that we can back this great British export?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his championing of this fantastic ice cream van business. Such vans are indeed a great export and currently face tariffs of up to 5% with some of our negotiating partners. We will certainly be looking at removing those tariffs as well as other tariffs as part of the trade deals we are looking to strike.
The proposed UK global tariffs stand to negatively affect polyethylene terephthalate resin manufacturing in Teesside, which delivers more than 70% of the UK’s PET packaging for critical applications such as food and pharmaceuticals as well as personal protective equipment. The survival of Alpek, the UK’s only producer of PET, is threatened by most favoured nation tariffs on its two main raw materials, despite the fact that there is no domestic production of them. Will the Secretary of State meet me and Alpek in my constituency to hear of the effect those tariffs could have and consider a different direction?
Last week, I visited a number of manufacturing businesses in the north-east, which is a manufacturing powerhouse. My hon. Friend is a huge champion of the industry in his area in Teesside, from chemicals to steel. I would be delighted to meet him and the company to see what can be done to help address its issues.
Exports to Non-EU Countries
It is noticeable that, unlike the Opposition, my hon. Friend champions business, champions the UK’s independent trade policy and thus champions the livelihoods of midlands workers. Ninety per cent of global growth is expected to be outside Europe over the next years and we are doing everything we can to support firms, not least in West Bromwich, to start or grow exports whether through signing trade deals, developing a new export strategy or boosting our on the ground network of international trade advisers.
It is clear that, with £3.8 billion-worth of exports, the Black Country is, as I have always said, the workshop of the United Kingdom. What work is my hon. Friend doing with local stakeholders, including our west midlands Mayor, Andy Street, to ensure that around the world people will once again see the words “Made in the Black Country”?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Working with partners in an increasingly devolved United Kingdom is so important to delivering the export success that all of us, at least on Government side of the House, crave. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Andy Street extremely recently to discuss our programme of FTAs and the benefits they can bring to the region, and we will continue to support businesses across the midlands—not least Westfield Sports Cars in Kingswinford, near my hon. Friend’s constituency, which is exploring new opportunities in places like the US, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
US Trade Agreement Negotiations
The third negotiating round of the UK-US free trade agreement took place from 27 July to 7 August 2020. I can announce today that the next round will start next Tuesday— 8 September. In parallel with the negotiations, my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary held a series of meetings in early August with the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer.
Given the impending failure of the Prime Minister’s fictitious oven-ready deal with the EU, how much leverage, or lack of leverage, will that failure give the Secretary of State in her negotiating position with whichever candidate wins the US November presidential elections, and what impact will that have on a UK economy already battered by covid-19 and a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman started off with a bit of a misnomer. Let me report from the most recent round of negotiations with the EU: our negotiator reported that these talks were part of the intensified process; they had had good talks around the Court of Justice and the EU’s concerns about the complex Switzerland-style set of agreements, and so on. So actually that was quite a positive round.
In terms of the US, clearly we keep channels of communication open—we talk with all parts of the US political system. We make sure that Senators, Members of Congress and Governors, from both parties and throughout the United States, buy into a future UK-US free trade agreement.
We have taken strong steps towards joining the CPTPP through engaging with all 11 member countries on UK accession to the CPTPP. In July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State chaired an event with all CPTPP Heads of Mission in London, and next week she will join a CPTPP meeting chaired by Mexico.
Indespension, at the heart of my constituency, manufactures top-quality trailers, whether for motorbiking, camping or for transporting a mechanical digger, so I am sure my right hon. Friend would have them as his No. 1 choice. In the name of equal opportunities, should not everyone around the world have that opportunity as well?
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for promoting the UK’s manufacturing exports around the world. He will be interested to know that north-west business goods exports to CPTPP countries were worth over £2 billion in 2019, and road vehicles were the top export within that, at £333 million. So I am sure that manufacturing exports from Bolton will have a fantastic future, with his support and that of this Department.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I take a very strong interest in our superb bilateral trade relationship with Taiwan, which has actually provided a lot of assistance to the United Kingdom during the pandemic. This autumn we will hold our annual trade talks with my Taiwanese counterpart, with whom I first engaged in such talks in 2016.
Like us, Taiwan, through its membership of the World Trade Organisation, is committed to the same values of free trade and free markets as we are, and we look forward to deepening our relationship with Taiwan in the coming trade talks.
Free Trade Agreements
For the first time in almost 50 years, we are able to determine our own trade policy, and there is much interest in the potential of a free trade agreement with Britain from our partners around the globe. We will weigh up a multitude of considerations and we will be looking closely at the progress we make on market access improvements in the months ahead.
While we remain open to taking forward negotiations with a number of global partners, we have already had productive discussions on how to enhance our trading relationship with the Government of India, as I detailed earlier, with the Gulf Co-operation Council, and with the Southern Common Market, known as Mercosur.
Having lived and worked in South America for five years, I am aware of the huge untapped potential that countries on that continent can offer, particularly for our high-tech manufacturing bases in Dudley and in the Black Country, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) mentioned. Will my hon. Friend update the House on any discussions to open up these markets and opportunities offered by a post-Brexit Britain?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the untapped potential of South American markets. Britain used to do more in this part of the world, so my Department is working to reignite those trading relationships through regular ministerial discussions, including with Brazil, to open up opportunities for trade. We have already secured a number of free trade agreements to ensure continuity of access for British businesses, and we are interested in further opportunities to deepen these relationships in the region, including through Mercosur.
Food and Farming Sector: Covid-19
The agriculture, food and drink sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry and supports about 4 million jobs. With exports worth £23.8 billion last year, we are determined to see this success continue. So on 22 June, alongside the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and business, I was delighted to launch an agriculture, food and drink bounce-back plan to drive exports and recovery from covid.
My father was a hill farmer, so it was a pleasure to meet a group of hill farmers in Bilsdale in my constituency, together with British Wool, which tells me that farm-gate prices for fleeces are down by 90% this year—so farmers are better off burning them than transporting them. Will British wool feature in a future free trade agreement?
I thank my hon. Friend, who stands up for Yorkshire farmers whether of sheep or other products. This Government will stand firm in trade negotiations, and we will always do right by our farmers and aim to secure new opportunities for the industry. We are also engaging with stakeholders such as the National Sheep Association through the agri-food trade advisory group. During our negotiations, DIT is also supporting interiors and apparel textiles manufacturers who use British wool at leading international trade fairs such as Heimtextil.
Cornwall is proud to produce some of the finest and most sought-after food and drink, but the sector has been hit hard as a result of the pandemic. Will the Minister lay out how food producers in Cornwall, and indeed around the country, will benefit from the agri-food bounce-back package that he mentioned?
The bounce-back package, as I say, was launched in June. It facilitates additional access for small businesses’ products to UK Export Finance. It launched a suite of export masterclasses and webinars to overcome some of the lack of understanding of opportunities in foreign markets and of the challenges that are faced in entering them. It will further boost our trade efforts ahead of new opportunities that will also be presented by our FTAs.
Already, a series of over 20 agri-food export masterclasses targeted at small and medium-sized enterprises has been delivered, and that programme will continue throughout this year. My Department is working, through our international trade adviser network, to support my hon. Friend’s local Cornish food and drink companies to access virtual meet-the-buyer events and UKAP—United Kingdom agricultural policy—webinars, which will be launched in the autumn and come out of the plan that we worked with industry to create.
We all recognise that a free trade agreement with the United States of America has enormous potential to benefit UK farming, not least by opening up a market of 328 million potential customers, but it does come with some risks, not least the potential import of clinically safe but lower food standard meat products. Will my hon. Friend update the House on what success he is having in maximising the benefits and minimising those risks?
As the Secretary of State has made clear—sufficiently slowly, I hope, for the Scottish National party spokesman—all existing food standards are enshrined in UK law and no trade deal will be able to change that legal position. I can assure my hon. Friend that those standards will be maintained, and I hope that his constituents are not alarmed by the consistent scare- mongering from Opposition parties.
I am delighted to say that we will see beef shipping to the United States imminently. It is worth noting that at the moment there are no lamb sales into the US, which is the second largest importer of lamb in the world. These are the prizes that we are after; these are the prizes that we are delivering.
UK-Japan Trade and Investment Priorities
Direct talks on the UK-Japan FTA between Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took place on 6 and 7 August, and I am pleased to say that they reached consensus on the major elements. We are in the final stage of negotiations and are optimistic about reaching an agreement in the coming weeks. Both sides are committed to a deal coming into force by the end of this year.
The UK’s own forecasts indicate that a trade deal with Japan will be worth a whopping 0.07% of GDP growth in the long term. In the meantime, leaving the EU single market and customs union will impact GDP growth by 5%. We know that the EU has a trade deal with Japan, so can the Minister explain to viewers in Scotland, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, why those figures are such a positive thing?
The benefit of trade deals is that they reduce the barriers to trade. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the EU-Japan trade deal has only recently come into force. I am delighted to say that the model deal that we are looking to secure with Japan is more ambitious; it goes further, not least on digital and data aspects, which will be tremendously important to the growing and strengthening tech scene in Scotland and beyond.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) just mentioned, Japan accounts for around 2% of the UK’s total exports. The EU is worth more than 20 times that and already has a trade deal with Japan. With many talks stalling, the UK is on track for a slew of bad deals, or simply no deal at all. Is it not now time for the Government, given their summer of U-turns on the covid crisis, to admit that their Brexit bluff has been called and urgently review this, in the light of the impact that disruption to trade, jobs and livelihoods, and the UK’s covid recovery, will have?
I do not know who wrote the hon. Gentleman’s question, but it is clear that they are hanging on desperately to the idea that there should be a failure. Overwhelmingly, the continuity agreements have been rolled over. We have opportunities, not least with Japan, to go further and have a more ambitious programme, as well as to set new standards through deals with Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
It is noticeable that in all the years that the EU has been in charge of our trade policy, it has never signed an FTA with the world’s largest economy, let alone the next largest economies in the world. The truth is that it is dawning on the hon. Gentleman and his separatist, schismatic colleagues that they are going to see not a failure of our trade policy but a success.
Free Trade Agreement Negotiations with Australia
Trade negotiators from the UK and Australia held the first round of negotiations for a UK-Australia free trade agreement between 29 June and 10 July. Round 1 saw a full and productive discussion covering most aspects of what might be included in a comprehensive free trade agreement. The second round will start on 21 September.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows that the high commissioner from Australia House, George Brandis, has been engaged in very extended talks with parties in Northern Ireland to encourage businesses there to look for growth opportunities with Australia. How do the Government intend to extend the opportunities in a trade agreement to businesses in Northern Ireland so that they can flourish under this free trade agreement?
I thank the hon. Member for that question. First, I commend the Australian high commissioner, who really does an excellent job right the way across the United Kingdom in promoting the benefits of this deal. We have been clear from the very beginning that UK free trade agreements will benefit Northern Ireland. Yesterday, I was speaking to Bushmills in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and talking to Colum Egan about Irish whiskey, particularly with reference to the Australia free trade agreement, including what we can do on rules of origin and on seeking to remove the current 5% tariff on both Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky going into Australia. I am sure that we can continue to do more work to make sure that Northern Ireland continues to benefit from the UK free trade agenda.
We are making good progress on negotiations with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and on accession to the CPTPP. We are also intensifying our negotiations with Australia. We want a gold standard deal that pushes new frontiers in trade and advances British interests in vital areas such as financial services, telecoms, tech, and food and drink. We want to work with like-minded friends and allies who believe in free trade and fair play.
My hon. Friend is right. Cornwall is renowned for its fantastic food from clotted cream to the Cornish pasty. I am going to be in Cornwall in a couple of weeks’ time, visiting the Saputo creamery, which exports Cathedral City to the United States—there is currently a 26% tariff on that cheese, which I am seeking to get removed—and I would be delighted to visit her in her constituency and see some of her great food businesses as well.
We have made some progress in that we have stopped new tariffs being imposed on blended whisky. We have also got the tariffs removed on shortbread, such as Walkers, which has helped protect 250 jobs. However, the reality is that the EU has been responsible for negotiating the Airbus retaliatory tariffs; it has failed to do so, and that is why I have entered direct talks with the United States. I will be having more talks in the coming months to get these unfair, unjust tariffs removed on single malt whisky.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is worth reminding ourselves that he and I were both elected in December on a strong programme of no compromise on our standards on the environment, animal welfare and food safety—he and I collectively and individually. That is in the manifesto, and it has been made in repeated statements by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the International Trade and the whole DIT team.
They say it never rains in East Devon when in the company of my hon. Friend, which was certainly true on my great visit to his constituency. We met a huge number of great businesses and landowners who look after our countryside and curate it for the next generation. We will never sign a trade deal that compromises Britain’s high environmental protections or animal welfare and food safety standards. Indeed, I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to promote our excellent British produce overseas through agriculture, food and drink bounce-back plans.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; I would always seek the support not only of the House but of people across the United Kingdom, because we want every single trade deal we sign to benefit our businesses, our consumers and our country. However, if some doubtful people on the Opposition Benches do not believe me, there is protection, because under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 system any trade deal can be blocked by this House. Of course, I would never consider putting forward a trade deal that would not command the support of the House, but there is always that protection for those doubting Thomases on the Opposition Benches.
I think it is absolute hypocrisy to hear that type of argument from the Labour party. Until recently, they had a shadow Chancellor, whom the hon. Lady supported, who called for the lynching of one of my female colleagues and never apologised. Labour has never elected a female leader, despite having the opportunity time and again. The reality is that they would rather virtue-signal and indulge in tokenism than take real action to improve the lives of women.
I am sure the whole House will join my hon. Friend in sending sympathies. We are ramping up defence engagement. We supported Britain’s largest ever delegation to the Indian defence expo in February this year, including 160 British business leaders. India increasingly prefers to contract defence and security deals via Government-to-Government frameworks, so we are leading that cross-government work to enable British businesses to do more in the future.
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. As we take up our independent seat at the World Trade Organisation we intend, alongside pushing our agenda on technology and services, to work with like-minded partners on the environment to get strong environmental agreement alongside our work on COP26.
We will use our new FTAs precisely to support the priority asks of UK small and microbusinesses that export goods and services around the world, including increased transparency on rules and regulations; international co-operation to support SMEs; and the securing of FTAs that benefit the whole UK economy, not just the largest players.
The reality is that those on the left of politics are always intolerant of anyone who does not agree with them but are prepared to defend anything from their own friends, such as the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). When is the hon. Gentleman going to condemn the right hon. Gentleman’s call to lynch one of my female colleagues?
All our decisions about pesticides are of course made in line with the best available science, but I assure my hon. Friend that our agri-food trade advisory group will absolutely look to make sure that our farmers are not disadvantaged in trade negotiations.
Front Line Defenders published a report in 2019 that detailed the firings, torture and trials in military courts of trade unionists and workers who organised strikes in Egypt. Will the Minister assure us that the Government will not sign a trade deal with the Egyptian Government unless they agree to respect the right to form unions and the right to take industrial action?
We will seek to provide continuity of trade with as many countries as possible through our continuity trade programme. We are always mindful of the trading partners we work with and we respect the rights and responsibilities that are intrinsic to British values in all that we do.
The Government have either reached free trade agreements or are in active negotiations with 15 of the 40 countries that the International Trade Union Confederation has identified as in the bottom category worldwide for their respect of workers’ rights. Will the Minister tell us in how many of those trade agreements the Government have secured or are seeking to secure clauses designed to protect workers’ rights?
The details of free trade agreements are reserved for formal negotiations, many of which are ongoing. Her Majesty’s Government have been clear that increased trade does not have to come at the expense of our high labour standards. Britain is an active member of the International Labour Organisation, and we will continue to uphold our world-leading standards and international commitments.
I am interested to hear the Minister’s comments, because the rollover agreement that the Government reached with Kosovo last year removed the requirement in the corresponding EU agreement for Kosovo to improve its laws on labour, health, safety at work and equal opportunities for women and men, for persons with disabilities and for persons belonging to minority groups. Can the Minister explain why?
As the Secretary of State and other Ministers have made very clear, what we do in this country remains in domestic law, and our trade deals do not change the fact that we have world-beating standards of labour protection. Indeed, this Government have done great work to combat modern slavery, introduce a national living wage and ban exclusive zero-hours contracts.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for taking this point of order, because it relates to the questions that we have just heard. In answer to my question on rolling over the deals that we currently enjoy through membership of the European Union, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), said, and I quote, that
“the vast majority of the trade covered by those deals has already been secured,”
and that was repeated by one of his colleagues. It is, however, contradicted by the Department’s own website, which says that 19 deals have been secured worth £84.07 billion last year, but there are 18 deals outstanding worth £84.5 billion—and that does not even include Japan. Will the Minister take this opportunity to correct the record and confirm that the vast majority of trade is not covered by these deals, and in fact they cover slightly less than half?
I think the hon. Gentleman is getting confused between the number of deals and the amount of trade that they cover. We have covered over 70% of the continuity trade, but some of those countries are smaller than others and have smaller amounts of trade.
I think you have both put those things on the record for today, and we will end questions with that. In order to allow the 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.