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Topical Questions

Volume 679: debated on Thursday 3 September 2020

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.

Cornwall prides itself on its excellent food and drink produce. Will my right hon. Friend please promote this fantastic Cornish and British produce during her trade negotiations around the world?

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.

Yesterday, I met Beam Suntory and the Scotch Whisky Association to hear about the crippling impact that tariffs are having on the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The Secretary of State said in her article in The Daily Telegraph:“The Government is stepping up talks with the US to try and break the impasse, and will be entering into further discussions with her opposite number”. Can she give us an update on how that is going and, more importantly, tell us when we are going to call time on tariffs? (905400)

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.

During the lockdown and local restrictions, my constituents have really embraced shopping local and really supporting quality local food and drink products. What reassurances can the Minister please give me and my constituents that, while we do these trade deals, we really will not compromise our high food standards and our animal welfare standards? (905401)

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.

Recently, I welcomed the Minister to East Devon to visit a dairy farm to discuss the opportunities ahead to export a wide variety of world-renowned produce from my home county. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give our farmers in Devon that their produce will be promoted and protected by this Government? (905402)

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.

As we speak, Palestinian communities remain at risk of forcible transfer as a result of Israeli annexation. The UK prohibited all trade from Crimea after Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation in 2014, and we should follow that precedent when it comes to illegal settlements. Has the International Trade Secretary had discussions with her Israeli counterpart over the illegal annexation, and will she reconsider UK trade deals with settlement territories? (905404)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was recently in Israel talking about our close relationship with that important ally.

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.

The Minister said that he welcomed the Government’s appointment of Tony Abbott as a trade adviser, but on Sky this morning, Kay Burley reminded the Health Secretary that the appointee is a misogynist and homo- phobe, which the International Trade Secretary’s colleague appeared to confirm by saying, “But he’s also an expert on trade.” Could the International Trade Secretary not find an expert for the role who demonstrates positive British values and, by the way, is not a climate change denier? (905407)

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.

Order. I think we ought to remember that we are dealing with international trade questions. That goes for Members on both sides of the House.

I start by expressing my sadness and sympathies over the death of India’s former President, Pranab Mukherjee, earlier this week. India is the world’s second largest importer of arms, but although the UK has a superb defence and security industry, including companies such as Domo Tactical Communications in my constituency, India is not one of our major markets. What more can be done to export to, and strengthen defence ties with, the largest of our Commonwealth allies? (905406)

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.

Environmental protections do work in bilateral trade agreements, but they work best when the process is genuinely internationalised. Will Ministers tell the House and the country what steps are being taken in the preparations for COP26 to make sure that international trade with strong environmental protections is a major item, to ensure that we can save the planet? (905412)

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.

In my constituency of West Dorset, 97% of businesses are small or micro-sized. Will the Minister tell me what the Government are doing to make sure that those small and micro-sized businesses will benefit from the many trade deals we are going to sign? (905408)

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 appointment of the sexist and homophobic Tony Abbott is also the appointment of a climate change denier. Does that indicate that the Government are moving away from any commitment in trade deals to maintaining environmental protection? If not, why have they put him in the job? (905418)

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?

Order. We have to remember that we actually answer questions, rather than keep asking them.

I call Matt Vickers. Not here.

We have heard warm words today from the Government Benches about cheese and the food and drink industry, yet we need reassurances in Scotland more than just warm words about trade deals. The Scotch whisky industry has lost a third of its exports to the United States since the 25% tariff was introduced. What are the Government actually doing to support the industry, which is vital not only to my constituency but to just about every constituency in Scotland? (905419)

The answer is that I am in direct talks with the US about dealing with this issue, following the failure of the EU, which the hon. Lady wants to rejoin, to do anything about it for 15 years.

Neonicotinoids are banned in the UK as seed dressing for sugar beet growers or for oilseed rape, but they are allowed in other countries, including some in the EU, putting their producers at a natural advantage over our producers. Will advantages of that kind be eliminated in a future free trade agreement? (905410)

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?

That is not a point of order; it is a clarification. I am happy to leave it there unless the Secretary of State wishes to respond.

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.

Sitting suspended.