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Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Business Engagement

Volume 679: debated on Thursday 3 September 2020

What steps her Department is taking to engage with businesses as part of free trade agreement negotiations. (905339)

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.