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Topical Questions

Volume 684: debated on Thursday 19 November 2020

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 the 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 groundbreaking Israeli innovations to combat covid-19, such as 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 affects not just 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.

I welcome all the work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing for post-Brexit Britain. What assessment have she and her Department made of the advantages of our United Kingdom for exporters and inward investment in the devolved Administrations? (908956)

What an excellent question. It is the reach, power and financial heft of this United Kingdom that have 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.

Can the Minister tell us how many trade agreements due to take effect on 1 January 2021 contain explicit human rights clauses? (908959)

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.

May I simply ask my right hon. Friend for reassurance that our overseas territories will be fully factored into all future trade deals and continuity agreements? (908957)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In fact, I am meeting representatives of the overseas territories to discuss 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 to discuss 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.

The average sheep pregnancy lasts 152 days, so tupping for next spring’s flocks in Wales has already happened in the autumn. The Minister referred earlier to Welsh lamb being protected in Japan, but 50% of Welsh lamb goes to the European Union, so the big issue is knowing what will happen on 1 January for Welsh lamb. I do not want to have a go at the Government, but I do just want them to get a deal so that Welsh lamb will not be priced out of its single biggest market across the whole of the European Union. (908968)

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.

The Government are moving at full steam to secure trade deals around the world, and it is welcome news that a deal with Canada is imminent. Could the Secretary of State reassure me, though, that when negotiating these deals we will focus not only on tariff barriers but on non-tariff barriers, which are incredibly important for our advanced manufacturers in Burnley? (908958)

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.

Can the Secretary of State assure me that the farming and agri sector in Northern Ireland can take part in and take the advantages of any trade deals that are made on the same terms and conditions as any other part of the United Kingdom? (908970)

I can absolutely assure the hon. Gentleman of that. I was delighted that the first cargo of British beef to leave for the United States of America for 24 years left from Northern Ireland.

Businesses in Morley and Outwood are keen to reap the rewards of our independent policy once we end the transition period. What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of the new regional comprehensive economic partnership, and how are the Government planning to extend Britain’s influence in this specific region for the benefit of all small and medium-sized enterprises around the country? (908961)

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.

There are reports that the Government plan to remove anti-dumping duties on imported bicycles at the end of transition, leading to a flood of cheap imports from China, which would be devastating for UK bike manufacturers. Can the Minister tell me what proportion of the domestic market consists of bikes made in the UK and confirm that if it is more than 1%, anti-dumping duties should remain? (908974)

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%.

With the help of my right hon. Friend’s Department, McMenon Engineering in my Workington constituency has recently opened a manufacturing facility in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Will she join me in paying tribute to its commitment to exporting Workington’s talent and look to bring the Board of Trade to its Workington facility for a future meeting? (908962)

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.

Despite the right hon. Lady’s bluster earlier, we all know that the Prime Minister’s preferred candidate has decisively lost the US presidential election. Given that the Obama Administration’s position was that Brexit would put the UK at the back of the queue for a US trade deal, where does she think the UK stands in that queue now? (908982)

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.

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 a few minutes.

Sitting suspended.