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Free Trade Agreements

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 14 January 2021

What steps her Department has taken to help ensure that businesses in the north-west can benefit from future free trade agreements. (910751)

I thank the distinguished trade envoy for his excellent question. My Department is turbo-charging efforts to help northern businesses take advantage of our trade deals and ensure that the benefits of FTAs are shared across the United Kingdom. Since March we have recruited an additional 30 international trade advisers, and 14 overseas representatives just for the northern powerhouse. We founded the Export Academy, equipping northern businesses with the knowledge, skills and tools that they need to create an export plan and, more importantly, to implement it. Since 2016, the DIT northern powerhouse team has led 83 trade missions to 23 countries, supporting 1,638 companies. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that covid-19 has not stopped us, and that 272 northern companies have benefited from nine virtual missions that the northern powerhouse team has delivered since April 2020. Five further such missions are planned for delivery by the end of March 2021.

I am delighted to have recently joined the parliamentary export programme, which is a DIT-led initiative that focuses on promoting international trade. Fylde, just like Chorley, is home to numerous SMEs that currently do not export their goods and services, but would be well placed to do so. What support and advice will be made available to businesses that are looking to begin exporting and play their part in post-Brexit, global Britain?

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the parliamentary export programme and thank him for all he is doing for businesses in Fylde. In addition to the support I just outlined, I launched the export growth plan in October, with a £38 million internationalisation fund to provide grants for businesses to export. In December, I launched the UK Export Finance general export facility, providing working capital to exporting SMEs—the first product of its kind and available from all the major banks. In 2019, we were the only top 10 exporting country in the world to grow exports. All I can say is that we do not plan to let up.