The Secretary of State was asked—
Trade Agreements: Food and Farming Standards
The Government are firmly committed to our manifesto pledges to uphold our high environmental, food safety, and animal welfare standards. Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, our current standards are taken into UK law, and the Secretary of State has now placed the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Placing the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing will ensure that public and industry interests are advanced and protected in Britain’s agriculture and trade policy. As the National Farmers’ Union said:
“This significant commitment to primary legislation on food standards, both in the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill, is exactly what we have been calling for.”
The farmers of South Cambridgeshire are some of the most efficient and environmentally friendly in the country, but they have concerns that they might be undermined in any trade deal by imports that are produced to lower animal welfare or environmental standards. They strongly welcome the Government’s decision to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing—a move also welcomed by farming and environmental groups across the country. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what role the commission will play during trade negotiations, to ensure that standards are maintained?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is a reliable supporter of farmers in his constituency. The Agri-food trade and agriculture group will feed in during the negotiations. He also asked about the TAC, and I wish to use this occasion to praise its chairman, Tim Smith, for the excellent work that he has done so far, and in very good time.
Colleagues across the House welcome the news about the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s statutory footing. It will be a strong voice for our farmers, and it will also provide expert independent advice for this House as we consider the impact of each trade deal on agriculture. When does the Minister expect those amendments to be tabled, and for the Trade Bill to resume its progress?
I represent a rural constituency, North Norfolk, where farming is the lifeblood for so many. My farmers are delighted about the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s statutory footing, and that move has also been applauded by the National Farmers Union. Will the Minister reassure my constituents that the commission will protect animal welfare and farming standards, and help to allow the farming sector to assess the deals that come forward for that important sector?
I know from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State how important farming is in Norfolk, in both her constituency and that of my hon. Friend. Farming has a strong voice on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and the NFU, NFU Scotland, NFU Cymru, the Farmers Union of Wales, and the Ulster Farmers Union are on it. It puts UK farming at the heart of our trade agenda, and allows the sector to help advise on our future trade deals.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The extension of the Trade and Agriculture Commission has been incredibly welcomed by farmers across Ynys Môn, and it shows this Government’s commitment to upholding our high food standards. What feedback has the Minister received from Welsh farmers regarding that move?
My hon. Friend is a strong and passionate voice for Ynys Môn farmers, and the feedback has been extremely positive. Putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing has been welcomed by NFU Cymru. Indeed, its president, John Davies, said that this
“is a milestone moment and one that should be welcomed by all those who care about our food, environment and high standards of production.”
Latest figures show that the UK’s agrifood sector is now worth £122 billion to the UK’s economy, and there is plenty of room for growth. As we set out into the world as an independent global trading nation, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, even though we have the weight of the Trade and Agriculture Commission in place, UK agriculture will be at the forefront of his mind as we go forward in future trade negotiations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and—crucially—we would never want UK agriculture to be sidelined from our trade agenda. We need and have UK agriculture fully on board, to take advantage of selling our fantastic British food and drink produce to foreign markets. Already, for the first time in many years, we are selling beef to the US, pork to Taiwan, and we have secured better agrifood protection in our recent UK-Japan trade deal.
According to blind tasting, French champagne has nothing on sparkling wine from the south downs. Hambledon, Wickham, and Exton Park are vineyards that produce brilliant wine in the Meon Valley, and we have some of the best produce in the UK. Will our free trade agreement support that burgeoning industry?
I look forward to tasting some of this Meon Valley wine, although I have to say that 9.39 in the morning might feel a little early. Our commitment to promoting British wines is very strong. Among the potential 70 geographical indicators in the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement deal are: English wine, English regional wine, Welsh wine and Welsh regional wine. We are in regular contact with WineGB and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association to help to promote this vital industry.
After listening to these Whips’ questions, I think I would like some English wine as well, Mr Speaker.
I had a long and detailed discussion with NFU Scotland on Monday. In its words, it is “really worried” about future trade deals. Fundamentally, the UK is a high cost, high food standard regime. It argues that it simply cannot compete with low-cost competition with lower food standards elsewhere. Is it not now time for the Government to change tack, and include chapters on food, animal welfare and standards in trade agreements?
I studied very carefully the hon. Gentleman’s amendment during the passage of the Trade Bill. In many ways, he had an even more extreme amendment than the Labour party in terms of trying to dictate our trade partners’ domestic production standards. That would have killed off a huge amount of our trade with the developing world. He mentions NFU Scotland. I thought I would go directly to the source. I am reading here from The Scottish Farmer, which I recommend he reads. NFU Scotland president, Andrew McCornick, said in The Scottish Farmer only last week, on putting the TAC on a statutory footing:
“This is a huge step forward.”
Putting an organisation on a statutory footing is one thing, but protecting food standards is something different. I think the Minister’s answer is what Americans call doubling down on a previous mistake. Let me give an example. UK egg producers simply cannot compete with imported eggs produced where the density of laying hens may be twice that permitted in the United Kingdom. The only way they could do that would be to massively lower food production and animal welfare standards, something we know from the recent Which? survey the public are implacably opposed to. Is it really the Government’s intention to be on the wrong side of food standards, the wrong side of animal welfare, the wrong side of the farming industry and the wrong side of public opinion?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He mentions the Which? survey. I was delighted to be the guest speaker at the launch of the Which? survey, “The National Trade Conversation”, where we discussed many of these aspects. To be absolutely clear to him again, our commitment that there will be no lowering of standards on animal welfare, food safety and the environment is absolute. I urge him again to get with the trade agenda and listen to NFU Scotland, which says it will
“strive to ensure that the best interests of farming, food and the drink and the public continue to be front and centre of any trade deals.”
That is exactly the right approach being taken by NFU Scotland. I urge him and the SNP to get on board with that positive approach for the first time, please.
The Government say that they want to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, but some of its members allow growth hormones, genetically modified food in animal foodstuffs and insanitary conditions for animals. The CPTPP is already in operation, of course, and trade is permitted between its members on the basis of lower animal welfare and food production standards. How does the Minister plan to renegotiate the CPTPP to exclude the lower animal welfare and food production standards it contains, given that existing members of CPTPP say that they will not allow new members to change the agreement?
The Secretary of State and I have told the hon. Gentleman time and again at the Dispatch Box that nothing in any trade agreement prevents this country from carrying out its own domestic regulation. We have been absolutely clear that a lot of the production methods and food standards he describes will remain illegal in this country after 1 January. He mentions CPTPP. I urge him to get on board with a positive agenda. Joining CPTPP, a trading group of 11 countries, including Canada, Singapore and Japan, will be a fantastic opportunity. I am not expecting him to support it, because of course he never supported trade deals with those countries in the first place, but I might hope he could reconsider now.
A very good morning to you, Mr Speaker, on the day you have been waiting for: the day of the first report on the UK-Japan comprehensive economic partnership agreement from my Committee. I am sure that you are looking forward to reading it. Indeed, we are hoping to have a debate in your Chamber, Sir, before the end of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process—just to let you know.
On food and farm standards, yesterday we heard from Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister and now adviser to the Board of Trade, who said that when he had an important deal to do with China, he took the state premiers of Australia with him. I wonder whether the Ministers at the Department for International Trade will consider doing the same for important trade agreements, taking the Welsh Minister, Jeremy Miles, the Northern Irish Minister, Diane Dodds, and the high-flying Scottish Minister, Ivan McKee, who might indeed be leader of the Scottish National party and First Minister one day. We need that to happen given that the UK Government are ready to burn particular sheep farming in Wales and Scotland by being outside the 45% tariffs. It is not just our standards, but the standards of our neighbours that are really going to matter for farming.
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for that, and I look forward to reading his report. When it comes to the devolved Administrations, we all need to respect the devolution settlement, which is that trade policy is a reserved matter and the UK Government carry out their negotiations on behalf of the whole United Kingdom. It is also right, however, that we consult the devolved Administrations, which is why, since May, when I took over the role of interaction with the devolved Administrations in this Department, I have had six meetings with Minister Ivan McKee. We have the quarterly ministerial forum for trade. I have already described how NFU Scotland, two farming unions of Wales and the Ulster Farmers Union are on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We also make sure that our trade advisory groups include representatives from the devolved Administrations. Our commitment is clear to negotiating the best possible deals for the whole United Kingdom, while making sure that voices from Scotland and the other devolved Administrations are very much included.
UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
Our deal with Japan secures opportunities for businesses in the north-west, which currently export goods worth £380 million to Japan. We have agreed an SME chapter that will make it easier for SMEs to cut the red tape on customs and ensure they have access to a dedicated website of opportunities.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the aerospace and automotive industry is incredibly important for Burnley. That is why it was important that we saw all the tariff benefits that were previously negotiated retained in the new deal, as well as additional benefits, such as a new data and digital chapter that goes far beyond what the EU has agreed and really helps to support our advanced manufacturing sector.
The Secretary of State has repeatedly claimed that the deal that she signed with Japan goes far beyond the original EU-Japan deal, so I return to the question that I asked her two months ago: will she tell us, in billions of pounds and percentages of growth, what the forecast benefits are for UK exports in GDP from her deal, compared with the forecast benefits of retaining the existing EU-Japan deal?
It is interesting that the right hon. Lady is interested in the difference, because the Labour party did not support the original deal with Japan. If it was down to Labour, we would not even have this deal in the first place. We have been very clear about the additional benefits that we have secured: better provisions on digital and data, better provisions on business mobility, a better position on intellectual property, better protection of British geographical indicators—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) is shouting, “How much is it worth?” from a sedentary position? Why, when we have left the EU, do Labour Members constantly seek to compare us with the existing EU provisions? It is almost like the Labour party never wanted us to leave in the first place.
What is going on? The Secretary of State claims that the UK-Japan deal goes far beyond the EU-Japan deal but will not quantify the difference. Why not? If she will not publish the exact figures at this point, will she at least do one basic thing and simply state on the parliamentary record whether the growth in our exports and GDP is forecast to be higher as a result of the UK-Japan deal than it was under the EU-Japan deal?
I think it is extraordinary that the right hon. Lady is asking me to carry out economic analysis on behalf of the EU. She has not asked me about the Australia-Japan deal and whether that is better or about the deal that China has with Japan or any other deals. Why is she me asking me about the EU? We have left the EU, and it is no longer our responsibility to do economic calculations for it. I have been clear, however, that this deal goes further and faster and brings in additional economic benefits.
Free Trade Agreement: Canada
We are determined to reach a deal with Canada before the end of the year. It is a fellow G7 member and one of the top 10 economies in the world. It will help our trade, from cars to beef, fish and whisky, in a trading relationship already worth £20 billion.
What we are negotiating at the moment is the vital continuity agreement, but I do hope that, in the future, as Canada is a member of the trans-Pacific partnership that has advanced chapters in areas such as data and digital, we will be able to go much further and build a much deeper relationship.
With just days to go, and with not just this continuity agreement still to be completed, British exporters such as our car manufacturers simply do not know whether they will face tariffs potentially as high as 20% in markets as diverse as Mexico and Vietnam and beyond. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State has focused too much of her time chasing new deals with the Trump Administration and others and taken her eye off protecting the free trade that we already have?
The Government have completed trade deals with 52 different countries covering £146 billion-worth of trade. That is a massive achievement. Unlike the Labour party, we are not prepared to agree to any deal put on the table; we will work hard to get a deal that is in Britain’s interests. There are deals ready to go with the countries the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, but I am not prepared to do a bad deal to push things forward. We are pushing all those deals forward, and we are making good progress.
Inward Investment: UK and other European Countries
Latest Office for National Statistics figures report that the UK’s inward foreign direct investment stock reached £1.5 trillion in 2018—a new record. According to the United Nations conference on trade and development, the UK held the highest FDI stock in Europe in 2019. The Financial Times FDI report highlights that last year the UK had more greenfield FDI projects than any other country in Europe at 1,271; by comparison, Germany had 702 and Spain 658. We are looking to go even further to improve our high value investment offer, which is why the Prime Minister launched the Office for Investment just last week.
I congratulate the Minister on the impressive inward investment results so far. What is he doing to boost investment and broader trading relationships between the UK and the Asia-Pacific region and, in particular, those with Pakistan, which is of interest to a number of businesses in my constituency?
There can be no greater or more persistent champion of UK-Pakistan relations than my hon. Friend. The Government remain committed to increasing trade and investment with the Asia-Pacific region. We have signed a free trade agreement with Japan, are negotiating FTAs with Australia and New Zealand and hope to be able to apply for formal accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, as already discussed. At the end of the transition period, the UK will put in place its own generalised scheme of preferences, and my hon. Friend will be delighted to learn that Pakistan will continue to receive the same market access to the UK next year. The scheme will help British and Pakistani businesses to continue trading seamlessly after we end the transition period.
UK Trade Policy: US Presidential Election
We have made good progress on our US deal, agreeing the majority of text and the majority of chapters. We are working with both sides of the House in the US for a deal that benefits both our two nations.
But if the Secretary of State’s global Britain is to mean anything, we must not put all our eggs in one basket. I think it fair to say that, in recent times, the Secretary of State has bet everything on securing a trade deal with the Trump Administration. She might want to conclude a deal with Canada, but the Prime Minister there said that the Secretary of State had lacked the “bandwidth” to focus on getting a deal with his country. Does she intend to ignore that criticism and continue making a deal with the US her dominant priority? If so, what confidence does she have that the Biden Administration will feel the same way in terms of their own priorities for trade?
We have now secured trade deals with 52 countries. We have secured a deal with Japan that goes beyond and above the EU’s agreements, we are working on accession to the trans-Pacific partnership and we are negotiating with Australia and New Zealand, so we are by no means entirely focused on the US, but it is our largest single country trading partner. I am always struck by the anti-Americanism among Opposition Members. They simply do not understand that these deals are incredibly important for British business. As for the comments from overseas Governments on our trade negotiations, it is interesting that Labour Members simply like to repeat their “lines to take”. Maybe they need to think of some of their own ideas.
We are all aware, sadly, that the Prime Minister has a litany of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, but to the detriment of our national interest, it seems that some of his foul-mouthedness has now caught up with him. In particular, his derogatory remarks on President—
Order. I am sorry, this has to be linked to the trade question. This is completely off beam. I am sorry, but we have got to stick to the question. As important as this matter is, and the hon. Gentleman quite rightly wishes to get it in, this is not the question to do so—
One of many sources of hope at the US election result is that after four years of climate change denial, President-elect Biden is talking about the global climate crisis and the action we must take to address it. Will the Secretary of State support him in those endeavours by guaranteeing to put climate change co-operation and green technology at the heart of any US-UK trade deal?
I am absolutely delighted to hear somebody on the Labour Benches being in favour of a trade deal. That is a real step forward. Of course we will have strong environmental provisions at the heart of our trade deal with the United States. I remember that Labour Members did not support a trade deal with President Obama, and they do not support a trade deal with the current Administration, but I am delighted to hear that they are supporting a trade deal with the new Administration. I look forward to working with them to ensure that the climate change provisions are excellent.
A new US President and Congress will not ratify a trade deal if we scupper the Good Friday agreement; our banning of Huawei infrastructure has angered China, and now this Government are prepared to break international law in the way we leave the European Union. How many major global trading partners are this Government prepared to upset before they do more harm to our economy than covid-19 has done already?
As one of the MPs for the Humber energy estuary, where we are doing pioneering work in areas such as carbon capture, it is heartwarming to hear American President-elect Biden talking about the global climate crisis and the action needed to address it, and seeing this as a way of generating the jobs of the future. Will the Secretary of State expand a little on what she thinks can be put into any trade deals in terms of this country’s green technology and making sure this creates the jobs needed on both this side of the Atlantic and the other?
In the new UK global tariff we have reduced the tariffs on 100 green goods, and we want to encourage more other countries to support that. Of course we are committed to working with the US, and next year we will have the presidency of the G7. That is a really good opportunity for us to pursue that agenda of tackling climate change, alongside our COP26 commitments, and of course we will be looking at putting these in all our trade deals.
Although we would all want a successful outcome to any trade negotiations with the US, will the Secretary of State confirm that, according to the Government’s own best-case scenario, any US deal with the UK will account for growth of only 0.16% over 15 years? Will she confirm what this will translate into if we do not get a deal with the EU? What loss in growth will we sustain?
Our assessment suggests that a £15 billion increase in trade will result from a US deal and also that we will see tariffs of half a billion pounds taken off fantastic British companies, be they in ceramics or the car industry, which will help to boost that growth. But the EU deal and the US deal are not in contradiction to each other; we should be aiming to do both. The problem is that the Labour party seems willing to agree any deal with the EU and willing to agree no deal with the US. What Conservative Members want is a good deal for Britain.
President-elect Biden has spoken powerfully about the need to end support for the war in Yemen and to stop selling arms that Saudi uses, in his words, for “murdering children”. Will the Secretary of State revisit her policy on arms sales in the light of the new President’s statement or will she choose to remain in lockstep with the blood prince bin Salman instead?
Business Exports: Administrative Burden
I talk regularly with businesses, business representatives, and ministerial colleagues about how we can make exporting easier for businesses across the country. That is why I was delighted to announce our new Scottish trade hub in September, which is staffed by expert trade advisers and dedicated to helping Scottish firms to grow internationally. I am pleased to say that our work to reduce barriers to trade and increase exports is paying off; the UK overtook France in 2019 to become the world’s fifth-largest exporting nation. All nine of the other 10 largest exporting nations in the world saw their exports fall last year, according to UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development—the exception was the UK.
Around 250,000 businesses export to the EU and not to the rest of the world. Many of them are small, not VAT-registered and difficult to reach, and to continue to trade they will need to go through a long and tedious process to acquire an economic operator registration and identification number. As the party that wants to reduce red tape, what action are the Government taking to reduce the administrative burden to ensure that SMEs can continue, or start, to export into Europe but do not suffer disproportionately from a madcap Brexit?
We are working to engage with businesses, and I recommend that all businesses that have not done so go to gov.uk/transition and look at the practical steps they need to take to prepare for the end of the transition period. From my engagements with Scottish businesses, though, it is clear to me that it is the relentless pursuit of Scottish independence, rather than the support for Scottish business, that they find the concern. I want to ensure, by using the power of the Union and our global reach, that we can boost Scottish business; otherwise, if follow the path of independence, we know that would lead to a shrinking of Scottish business and a loss of opportunity for Scottish people.
Rod McKenzie, the Road Haulage Association’s policy director, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament in which he highlighted a no-deal Brexit scenario in which lorry drivers would be forced to rely on European Conference of Ministers of Transport permits, of which the UK has been allocated around 4,000, despite more than 40,000 being required. In effect, that would stop the best part of 90% of companies trading with Europe. What assurances can the Minister give today that traders and hauliers will experience minimal disruption?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been working flat out to engage with businesses, to provide easements on the customs regime up to July next year and to make sure that we minimise the challenges as we end the transition period. Of course, the issue that Scottish businesses raise with me is that the biggest threat to their trade is not any friction as we move to the new settlement on the EU border, but the fact that 60% of all Scottish exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland—more than to the rest of the world combined. It is that, and the threat that the hon. Gentleman poses to Scottish business in that way, that really worries them for the long term.
Trade Policy: Consultation with Unions
We are committed to making sure that our ambitious global trade policy works for every corner of our United Kingdom. Trade unions and civil society are crucial to that, so I am delighted to have expanded our engagement to include a dedicated trade union advisory group and a series of civil society and think-tank roundtables from across the political spectrum, which I will chair.
I recently had a meeting with Jonty Cliffe and Claudia Bayley, the chairs of the Cheshire Young Farmers Club, and they were concerned to make sure that the views and priorities of all young people who work in agriculture and affiliated industries were fully integrated and taken into account by the work of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. I have raised this issue with the commission’s chair, Tim Smith, but will my hon. Friend also discuss it with the commission to make sure that those views and priorities are taken into account, because those young people are the future of British farming?
That is a great and typically thoughtful question. The TAC includes representative bodies from the length and breadth of Britain, so I encourage young farmers and others to continue to share their views with those bodies, which work proactively to provide insight to us and the TAC. Indeed, as my hon. Friend says, many young farmers—such as Jonty and Claudia in the Cheshire Young Farmers Club in my hon. Friend’s county and Tom Janaway in the National Farmers Union in mine—are already actively involved in sharing their views.
Japan Trade Agreement: Climate Change Commitments
The UK-Japan agreement locks in the benefits of the EU-Japan deal, including provisions on climate change such as those that reaffirm our respective commitments to the UN framework convention on climate change and the Paris agreement; those that promote trade in low-carbon goods and services; and those that support co-operation on trade and climate.
Although I am disappointed with some aspects of the Japan trade agreement, such as the provisions on data, I am heartened that there is no investor-state dispute settlement clause in the new UK-Japan FTA, as ISDS has been used by large corporations to sue Governments over environmental regulations on issues such as water pollution, deforestation and fracking. Will the Minister confirm that, to protect our natural environment, the UK will not seek such an arrangement with either Japan or any other new trading partners after Brexit?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. I ought to add first of all that we really welcomed the announcement that Japan made on Monday, in advance of COP26, that it will be seeking to become carbon neutral by 2050. On her question about ISDS, I will be frank. This country is already party to ISDS with dozens of agreements, but let us recognise that the UK has never lost a case brought against it in ISDS. It is something that is there as much to protect British businesses trading abroad as it is for foreign investors in this country, so her alarmism about ISDS is misplaced.
UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
The UK-Japan CEPA will benefit farmers and food producers in Wales through lower tariffs than would have been the case without an agreement. It also allows more UK goods to access preferential tariffs than under the EU-Japan agreement, thanks to new rules of origin. New protections for more iconic Welsh food products may also be possible, including for Welsh lamb and coracle-caught sewin.
Twelve Welsh geographic indicator products have been protected in the UK-Japan deal on which I warmly congratulate the Department. I am particularly pleased to hear the Minister mention Welsh lamb. Can he reassure me that those products will be respected and protected in future trade deals, particularly with the US and Australia?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is the potential inclusion of around 70 geographic indicators, 12 of which are from Wales—she is quite right—including Welsh beef, Welsh lamb, Welsh wine, cider, perry, Caerphilly cheese, Carmarthen ham and others. One of our key objectives is to be able to sell Welsh lamb into the United States—British lamb overall is not currently allowed into the United States—but we will be fighting to get an improvement in Welsh lamb exports around the globe.
EU Trade Agreements: Rollover with non-EU Countries
We have made good progress. In under two years, we have agreed trade deals with 52 countries, covering £146 billion of trade, accounting for 74% of the value of total trade with non-EU countries that we set out to secure agreements with.
We learn from The Telegraph that the Minister has rejected the Ghana deal because it was a “a substantial departure” from the EU deal, but she says that the Japan deal goes far beyond the EU deal. What is it? Are the Government exercising new British sovereignty to produce far-reaching new deals, or are they just rolling over and accepting the same deals that we already had?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman is that we are seeking to roll over the Ghana deal, as we are other deals, but with Japan, we have gone through the process of producing a scoping assessments. [Interruption.] No, we were very clear that Japan was a deal that would go further and faster than the EU deal, alongside the new deals that we are negotiating with the US, Australia and New Zealand. There is a deal on the table for Ghana to agree to. It has already agreed to the same deal with the EU. There should be no block on Ghana being able to get tariff-free, quota-free access to the UK, and we are very happy to talk to its representatives at any time of the day or night.
Trade Deals: Human Rights Provisions
This Government have a strong history of promoting our values globally, including human rights. While our approach to agreements will vary between partners, our strong economic relationships allow us to have open discussions on a range of issues, including on human rights. We will not compromise our high standards in trade agreements.
In September, the UN said that the Saudi airstrikes in Yemen had led to
“a consistent pattern of harms to civilians”
unlike our own Government who said in July that there was no such pattern and therefore it was lawful to resume arms exports. Can the Minister tell me how his Government have looked at the same evidence as the UN and arrived at such vastly different conclusions?
May I remind the hon. Lady, as the Secretary of State said earlier in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), that the UK has one of the most rigorous arms control regimes in the world? We follow the consolidated criteria at all times. On trade agreements, I ask her to judge us on our deeds and not always on our words. In terms of the trade agreements that we have rolled over, there has been no diminution of human rights clauses in any of those agreements.
Exporting and Transporting UK Goods
The Department for International Trade is working closely with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and others to ensure that businesses are prepared for 1 January. We have delivered specialist webinars and support tools to ensure that industry understands the changes required to keep trading effectively with the EU as well as to start trading under preferential conditions, such as those with Japan. Looking forward, we are aiming to produce the world’s most effective border by 2025, simplifying and digitising border processes so that exporters across the country will be able to sell their products around the world more easily once our free trade agreements are agreed and in place.
A report published this month by the National Audit Office estimates that the number of HM Revenue and Customs declarations that will need to be processed from 1 January will increase from the current annual volume of 55 million to 270 million. That is a huge increase. What discussions is the Department having with other Departments to ensure that this huge increase in the administrative burden does not discourage exports to Europe and the world?
The hon. and learned Lady is quite right; there are a lot of challenges. That is why, across Government, we have been making such an effort to work with other Departments to make sure that we do everything possible to inform business and to facilitate the border, including investing hundreds of millions of pounds in improving customs processes and others.
Last week, we announced that the UK will be continuing our trade preferences scheme for developing countries in 2021. It is important that developing countries continue to receive the same market access under our unilateral trade preferences as they do at the moment. We remain firmly committed to the principle that trade helps to lift the poorest out of poverty, and early next year we will be launching a consultation on how we can improve the preference scheme and help to use trade as a tool for development. We will aim to have the new scheme finalised by the end of 2021.
With all our minds on both the health and economic recovery from the covid pandemic, may I ask my right hon. Friend what discussions she has had with her Israeli counterpart to further trade co-operation beyond the continuity deal, not least given the incredible and ground-breaking Israeli innovations to combat covid-19, such as through remote monitoring of patients and thermal scanning?
My hon. Friend is right. It is vital that we use trade as a way of motoring growth post this terrible covid crisis. We are working on negotiating a cat’s cradle of trade deals around the world to support British business. Of course, Israel is one of those priorities. It is very advanced in areas such as data and digital. There is strong scope for a world-leading agreement, and we are in discussions about that.
From 1 January, the Secretary of State will be responsible for our trading relationship with other European countries. With or without a deal, the services sector is concerned that its interests have been marginalised throughout the negotiations with the EU. This does not just affect financial and legal services, but engineers, technicians and others. Will the Secretary of State commit to securing—as a start—mutual recognition of qualifications to enable all these crucial sectors to work across Europe?
I am committed to having a positive relationship with the European Union. I speak to my counterpart, Valdis Dombrovskis, about issues concerning global trade. Of course, we want with every part of the world good trade deals that uphold our standards and facilitate increased trade in areas such as services, data and digital, but the important principle is that we cannot do that at the expense of the UK’s sovereignty. Those are the negotiations that are currently being conducted by Lord Frost.
What an excellent question. It is the reach, power and financial heft of this United Kingdom that has allowed us to be the only top 10 global exporter to increase exports last year and allowed us to attract more foreign direct investment than any other country in Europe. Shorn of the UK’s assets, businesses—and, more importantly, workers—in places like Scotland would be impoverished as a result. We seek to ensure that we use every part of the power of this United Kingdom to support jobs and investment in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no change in the effect of the existing EU trade deals when it comes to human rights and the role there of the UK agreements. I would urge him to look at those agreements and study the reports that have been produced comparing the agreements with the original.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In fact, I am meeting the overseas territories on this very subject next week. You in particular, Mr Speaker, will be impressed by the Secretary of State meeting Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, only last month on this. Getting our overseas territories participating in the UK independent trade agenda is very important. We recognise fully the constitutional responsibilities we have for the OTs and we work closely with them to ensure that their interests are represented.
We are working very hard to secure a good deal with the European Union and negotiations are ongoing. However, it is important that our farmers have as many markets as possible. That is why we have worked hard to get the lamb market open in Japan in 2019, we are working hard to get lamb into the US, which is the second-largest importer of lamb in the world, and we are working hard to get more lamb into the middle east too.
My hon. Friend is correct. That is why we want to join trade areas such as the trans-Pacific partnership with very strong provisions reducing the level of bureaucracy required, and liberal rules of origin that help our manufacturers. That is also what we are looking to negotiate with the United States. It is important that we get the advanced digital and data chapters that the EU was not prepared to sign up to but which provide so much value for advanced manufacturers in being able to sell their products around the world.
We follow RCEP quite closely, but we are looking forward to making our application to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, or TPP-11, trading group in the new year. This is an excellent trading group. Its 11 countries are a mix of like-minded western trading nations such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as more developing nations such as Vietnam and Peru. There are great opportunities for all of us, including my hon. Friend’s Morley and Outwood businesses.
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, which is important, because we must apply anti-dumping measures in a clear and accurate way. The Department has assessed which of the existing anti-dumping trade remedies should be transitioned, and evidence has been provided by British producers of bicycles, which thus far has indicated that there are not sufficient British sales to transition the measure, but we will review any further information. That information would need to demonstrate that the British market share of British-based producers of the product in question was above 1%.
I thank my hon. Friend for his invitation to the Board of Trade. It is likely that our next meeting will be held in Northern Ireland, but I will certainly be looking to Workington for a future meeting to see the fantastic work being done in advanced manufacturing.
Given that the Scottish National party voted for even fewer trade deals than the Labour party, and are even more anti-trade than the Labour party, I am delighted to hear that there seems to be some kind of turnaround and that under a Biden Administration, the hon. Gentleman will back a US trade deal.
East Midlands airport is the UK’s biggest pure cargo airport. It has lots of potential for growth. It has become a hub of investment for freight and logistics in recent years, and must surely be at the heart of our plans to make the most of our global trade. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a brilliant site for an inland freeport? Will she put a word in with the Chancellor?
I thank my hon. Friend for his assiduous bidding on behalf of the east midlands. The bidding for freeports opened on Tuesday, and bids need to be submitted by 5 February 2021. I point out to him that these trade deals we are negotiating will just mean more and more trade coming into the freight hub, with or without freeport status, but I will of course mention what he said to the Chancellor.