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Continuity Trade Agreements

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 14 January 2021

We have agreed trade deals covering 63 countries plus the EU, accounting for £885 billion of UK trade. No other country has ever negotiated so many deals simultaneously.

I commend the Secretary of State for her work securing the most ambitious digital free trade provisions anywhere in the world. The digital economy is worth £150 billion to the UK economy, and it is growing five times faster than the rest of the economy. Could the Secretary of State outline the work that she is doing, to update businesses on these exciting new provisions, so that they can make the most of the new opportunities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that digital trade is vital, and the UK is a world leader in technology. Our Japan deal goes well beyond the EU-Japan deal in areas such as the free flow of data, the commitment to uphold the principles of net neutrality and the ban on data localisation. We are negotiating similar provisions with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and we are looking to accede to the CPTPP, which has a very strong digital and data chapter. We also have a trade advisory group involving leading figures from the tech industry so we can make sure we have the most up-to-date information when we are negotiating these deals.

It has now been 14 days since the provisional trade agreement between the UK and Cameroon entered into force, yet Parliament has still not even seen that agreement, let alone had the chance to examine, debate or approve it. While I fully understand the reasons for that, does the Secretary of State understand why Members of all parties believe that this episode just illustrates why—in fact, it is the latest illustration of why—scrutiny procedures need to be improved, which is the reason many will be voting for changes to them next Tuesday?

I like to say that scrutiny starts at home, so I suggest the right hon. Lady starts with her colleague, the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), who presided over the EU’s signing of the CARIFORUM deal 13 years ago, which is still being provisionally applied. I am not quite sure why the right hon. Lady does not ask for a debate on that. [Laughter.]

These are serious matters. Cameroon has become, in the last three years, one of the most abusive, repressive and murderous regimes in the world today. We all know that that did not stop the Secretary of State reaching a trade agreement with it, but we do not even know what, if anything, the trade agreement says on this issue. Again, does the Secretary of State understand why Members on all sides of this House believe that there is a need for new laws, next Tuesday, obliging the Government to take proper account of human rights when negotiating and ratifying new trade agreements?

I had hoped that the right hon. Lady would have welcomed our announcement earlier this week on the action we are taking on forced labour in Xinjiang and making sure that Britain upholds its values when trading internationally. I would ask her to consider some of her previous actions, such as sharing a platform with Hamas and refusing to criticise Fidel Castro’s abhorrent human rights abuses. It is a bit much being lectured by a Labour Member on human rights, given her past record.

Can I just say to the Secretary of State that I expect better of her answer? That was just way off beam. In fairness, you are a much better Secretary of State than that, and I do expect better.