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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 14 January 2021

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Scottish Goods: US Tariffs

My right hon. Friend has been a huge champion for Scotch whisky. We have been working hard to de-escalate this conflict and get punitive tariffs removed on both sides of the Atlantic. That is the way forward, not escalating this tariff dispute.

The Secretary of State has worked incredibly hard in negotiating with the United States to try to find a bilateral settlement to the Airbus-Boeing dispute to facilitate a deal with the US. Of course she is aware of the significant damage that the Scotch whisky industry continues to suffer, with export losses now approaching a staggering £450 million. Will she reassure me that as soon as possible after the new US Administration is in place, she will urgently pick up negotiations on a deal to end tariffs? Will she update the House, before that, on what support she requires from other UK Government Departments to ensure that a deal is agreed by the whole of the UK Government?

I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about the urgency of ending this tariff dispute. I have been clear with the United States and the European Union that we want to de-escalate it and reach a negotiated settlement. This dispute has already been going on for 16 years and has caused much damage. I am seeking an early meeting with the new US trade representative, Katherine Tai, and this will be one of the items on my agenda. I am also working closely with the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on this issue.

I know that everybody in Government is working hard on this, but I want to reiterate the huge financial strain that the tariffs are having on the textile and cashmere industry in my constituency in the Scottish borders, which I fear will cost many local jobs. Will the Government consider offering financial compensation to the firms affected to protect local jobs and this industry?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are looking at supporting industry, including through the BEIS fund that will invest £10 million to help distilleries go green, and no doubt the Treasury is looking at other affected industries as well. If we had accepted the advice from Labour to put additional tariffs on US products such as sweet potatoes and nuts, we would likely be hit by more tariffs as Germany and France were, as announced on 30 December.

The Secretary of State has threatened to reimpose tariffs on the United States if the Airbus dispute is not settled, but that threat will only carry any impact if the US believes that we have the legal authority to carry it out. Will she agree to publish the UK’s legal advice or our exchange of letters with the World Trade Organisation to prove that she is not bluffing and that we genuinely have the authority to reimpose those tariffs if we need to do so?

I am very clear that we have the authority to impose those tariffs. We have acquired rights as a result of leaving the European Union. But I go back to the point I was making: the hon. Gentleman has advocated putting additional tariffs on products such as sweet potatoes and nuts, so presumably he thinks that we have those acquired rights.

Free Trade Agreements: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

What steps she has taken to help ensure that SMEs in Sedgefield can benefit from future free trade agreements. (910745)

What steps her Department has taken to help ensure that SMEs in Buckinghamshire can benefit from future free trade agreements. (910761)

The Government have included, and will continue to seek to include, specific SME chapters in all our free trade agreements to ensure that SMEs are provided with the information necessary to make informed commercial decisions and seize the great new opportunities provided by these agreements.

The support for SMEs in the trade agreement is great to see, but may I ask the Minister to continue that with a free trade agreement for the USA that supports companies like Kromek in Sedgefield? It manufactures high-radiation detector material ingots that are shipped to the USA, attracting US import duty incorporating the price for worldwide sale, with the waste coming back to the UK for re-manufacture, attracting further UK import duty. The removal of those duties would clearly support high-value jobs in Sedgefield and increase the global competitiveness of an export-led UK business.

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question on behalf of his constituency company, and I can tell him that the US and the UK have a shared ambition to improve trade for our SME-focused economies on both sides of the Atlantic, to help companies such as Kromek. There are three specific areas we are looking at. First, we want to reduce or eliminate tariffs. Secondly, we will have a wide-reaching SME chapter. Thirdly, we are also looking at provisions on reimported goods as well. Those provisions will benefit around 32,000 UK SMEs that already export to the US, such as Kromek, but also future SMEs. That will grow that trade, which will suit our bustling and improving SME sector.

The trade agreement with the European Union is absolutely fantastic for our country as a newly sovereign nation, and it comes on top of deals already covering more than 60 countries. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how he intends to go further still and secure opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, which would particularly benefit small businesses in my constituency of Aylesbury, but also those across the UK?

We are seeking an SME chapter in all our future free trade agreements. SME chapters are an excellent way of assisting companies to navigate a free trade agreement. They distil information and make it easier, particularly for companies without expertise in trade agreements, which is generally the case for SMEs. In Asia-Pacific, we aim to include such chapters. We have already included one in an agreement with Japan, and we aim to include them in agreements with Australia, New Zealand and, of course, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. We are aiming to do that to benefit SMEs in constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s in Aylesbury.

Food and Drink Exports

We are launching a new food and drink export campaign this year, which will encourage British businesses to take advantage of the deals we have struck, covering 63 countries around the world. As part of our Japan deal, we will be putting forward 77 geographical indications to the Japanese system, including Welsh lamb.

The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is a great achievement, but could my right hon. Friend help with problems being experienced by companies delivering goods to Northern Ireland, such as dairy wholesaler Spear UK in Llandrillo in my constituency of Clwyd South, which saw delays last week due to additional paperwork and permanent extra costs for the customs agent and veterinary oversight?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster gave a statement on this issue yesterday, and he is working hard with the Brexit business taskforce to deal with those issues. We also have the trader support scheme for Northern Ireland. I am pleased to say that freight volumes for Northern Ireland ports are at normal levels for this time of year, and there are no significant queues. Supermarkets are reporting healthy levels of supplies, but I certainly will pass on my hon. Friend’s issue to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to ensure that it is resolved.

Let us head to Scotland to Scottish National party spokesperson Stewart Hosie with the first of two questions.

The Secretary of State was copied in to a letter to the Business Secretary from Vicky Leigh-Pearson, the sales director at John Ross Jr, Aberdeen, salmon producers and exporters. It described in excoriating detail the “barrage of useless information” on Brexit, which added no value or clarity for such food and drink exporting businesses. Would it not be better to fix the problems at the UK-EU border, where real exports take place, rather than make vague promises about future promotional campaigns?

I observe that the hon. Gentleman did not support a deal, so effectively he wanted no deal for the people of the United Kingdom. I think it is a bit rich of him to raise issues when no deal would have been very, very tricky for the exporters he is talking about. Given that £200 million was given to the Scottish Government to prepare to minimise disruption, I suggest he takes up the issue with Nicola Sturgeon to see how that money has been spent to help Scottish exporters.

That was possibly the worst case of deflection I have ever seen, even from a Tory. The Brexit advice on offer to businesses such as John Ross Jr, which has an exemplary 30-year record in exporting,

“has fallen woefully short when it comes to one of the most important commercial issues of our time.”

Instead of vague promises about future campaigns, pathetic attempts at deflection and playing rather silly politics, would it not be better to fix the problems at the UK-EU border, where real exports happen, to protect real jobs and businesses?

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is working very hard with the Brexit business taskforce to make sure that disruption is minimised and businesses are given support. It is perfectly reasonable for me to raise the £200 million that has been given to the Scottish Government and how they are spending it, and the hon. Gentleman’s silence speaks volumes.

Not enough vets to inspect Scottish fish, not enough customs agents to process border forms and not enough time for exporters to adopt new rules of origin—it is no good the Secretary of State saying that the delays are temporary or promising compensation with money that has been already allocated to modernise the fishing industry, as the Prime Minister did yesterday. The Government have failed to prepare for the new arrangements at the border, so is it any wonder that a company such as John Ross Jr says that the Government have thrown them in the sea “without a life jacket”?

I am not quite sure what the question was, but I have been clear that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is running the Brexit business taskforce and that we are seeing disruption minimised and businesses given the support they need. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is an urgent question immediately after this Question Time specifically on the fisheries issue, in which he will no doubt want to participate.

Brazil Trade Agreement: Environmental Standards

What discussions she has had with her Brazilian counterpart on enhancing environmental standards as part of a bilateral trade agreement. (910747)

Britain will not sacrifice her high standards of environmental protection in any future free trade agreements. At present, we do not have a trade agreement with Brazil, but we are clear that more trade does not need to come at the expense of our values. The Secretary of State and I raised the pressing issue of deforestation most recently on 11 November at our joint economic and trade committee with Brazil.

I thank the Minister for his response, but in recent correspondence I have had with the Brazilian ambassador, he has refused even to acknowledge that deforestation is an issue in the Amazon. We have also seen recent reports in the press about terrible working conditions on Brazilian beef farms, which have been described as akin to modern slavery. What more can be done to ensure not only that these concerns are raised in discussions with Brazil but that any future bilateral trade deal is conditional on Brazil taking action to stop the abuse of workers and the deforestation?

The hon. Lady is right: there is, of course, more that can be done, which is why the United Kingdom has already committed £259 million to Brazil through its international climate finance programme to tackle deforestation. For example, the early movers programme rewards pioneers in forest conservation, and another programme led by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has protected the clearance of something like 430,000 acres in Brazil.

As we all know, Scotland opposed leaving the European Union, and leaving the European Union is going to cost the UK about 4.9% of GDP. Many are concerned that a trade deal with Brazil will be a threat to UK poultry and meat production. Will the Minister ensure that lower meat production standards do not get on the table in any way, shape or form? What is the GDP gain of a deal with Brazil? Do the Government have that figure, or is it similar to the Australia trade deal, which is projected to be 245 times smaller than the Brexit damage that the Tory Government have foisted upon the UK?

I thank the Chairman of the International Trade Committee for his question. I can be clear that we are firmly committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards now that we are outside the EU. Indeed, we have the agility and flexibility to enhance them where we believe that that is right. We can also go further on trade. That includes recently opening new opportunities for fish by securing approval from Brazil for seven new British fisheries facilities, which means that companies can now sell high-quality British fish to an import market that was worth almost £1 billion in 2019.

Continuity Trade Agreements

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.

Inward Investment

What comparative assessment she has made of the level of inward investment into (a) the UK and (b) other European countries. (910749)

The DIT’s inward investment goal is to maintain the UK’s position as the No. 1 holder of foreign investment in Europe. That is why I am delighted to say that, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, the UK’s inward foreign direct investment stock stood at £1.6 trillion at the end of 2019. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development—the global equivalent of the ONS—the UK maintained its No. 1 status for FDI stock in Europe at the end of that year.

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that inward investment supports the levelling up of areas such as Bassetlaw?

What an excellent question. My Department is committed to ensuring that exports and investment bolster our levelling-up agenda. That is why we operate a key account management programme, to support existing investors in priority levelling-up areas. D2N2 LEP—it sounds like something from “Star Trek”, but it is my hon. Friend’s local enterprise partnership—is currently receiving funding under that programme to identify foreign owned companies across the LEP area, including in Bassetlaw, which can be assisted with growth plans precisely to retain an increased number of jobs. Since March, we have also placed seven new officers in key markets overseas, who are specifically tasked with promoting investment opportunities in the midlands, not least in Bassetlaw.

Middle East: Trade

Britain has strong bilateral trading relationships with our friends in the middle east and a clear ambition to deepen them. That is why we have launched a joint trade and investment review with the Gulf Cooperation Council, with which total trade stood at almost £41 billion in the year to June 2020. We continue our work with other parts of the region too, particularly where we have trade agreements and are seeking to maximise new opportunities.

The recent report from the all-party group on the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, which I chair, identifies opportunities for British bodies in energy, solar power, film production, higher education and agriculture, including quality pomegranates from Halabja, and it states that the Government should organise a second official trade mission once covid allows. Will the Minister talk with his colleagues, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the APPG to consider how such a trade mission could boost investment and trade with our allies, who constantly seek British expertise, goods and services?

Sadly, such travel is somewhat restricted at this moment in time, but my right hon. Friend is right to highlight the opportunities across the whole middle east region. For instance, in the education sector, which I know is a particular passion of his, my Department has supported companies to win more than 30 contracts in the middle east, worth more than £58 million over the past year. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend to take that forward.

Free Trade Agreements

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.

Free Trade Agreements

What steps her Department has taken to help ensure that businesses in the Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership area can benefit from future free trade agreements. (910752)

We are determined that all regions of the United Kingdom should benefit from free trade agreements. Our English network of international trade advisers includes 30 giving export support in the south-east of England, all of whom have been trained to help companies take advantage of FTAs. We have a range of online resources, including country-by-country guides and tools on such as “Find an online marketplace” and “Find export opportunities”, in addition to the wide range of webinars that the Department provides.

The Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership is soon to submit a freeport bid for the Manor Royal industrial area south of Gatwick airport. May I have an assurance from my hon. Friend that he will liaise with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of this excellent initiative?

I would not want to tread on my hon. Friend’s toes. As he understands, the selection process is ongoing and it will be decided by the Treasury, but obviously we are working very closely with the Chancellor and the Treasury team, precisely to ensure that the opportunities for freeports are assigned to the best possible places and that all the benefits that they can bring are realised, for the benefit of constituents such as my hon. Friend’s.

Free Trade Agreement: Australia

We have made good progress, and we are about to go into the third round of talks with Australia next month. I will be speaking to my counterpart, Dan Tehan, next week in advance of that, and we will be fighting to cut tariffs on vital British goods such as ceramics, which face a 5% tariff into Australia.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer and for everything that she and her team, and her negotiators, did last year to get continuity trade agreements for Newcastle-under-Lyme exporters such as Doulton Water Filters, which I met shortly before Christmas. For all our exporters, will my right hon. Friend set out how an agreement with Australia would also facilitate our accession to the CPTPP, which is one of the most vibrant markets in the world and would give us even more opportunities in the future?

A deal with Australia will be another important step towards CPTPP, where we will be negotiating a market access schedule with Australia. It is a high-standards, rules-based agreement covering £9 trillion of GDP and, importantly, it removes tariffs on 95% of goods. It has a strong data and digital chapter and it will mean more opportunities for exporters in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Free Trade Agreements

What steps her Department has taken to help ensure that (a) farmers and (b) food producers in Wales can benefit from future free trade agreements. (910754)

Global Britain’s trade agreements will benefit food and drink producers and farmers by driving up growth and opening new markets to them. Just in 2019, Wales exported £123 million-worth of meat products globally, so a future trade deal with the US and others could reduce barriers. A deal with the US alone could boost the Welsh economy by £154 million, helping to create more jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

On Christmas day, a local sheep farmer knocked on my door to give me a Christmas present—a box of swedes—as a thank you for the Prime Minister reaching our historic free trade agreement with the EU. Sheep farmers in Brecon and Radnorshire have warmly welcomed the deal with the EU, the largest market for Welsh lamb, but my farmers are not prepared to stand still; opening new markets through rewarding trade deals is essential to future-proofing the sheep sector. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will look to give sheep farmers across Brecon and Radnorshire every possible opportunity to get their lamb across the world?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of the farming industry in her constituency and across Wales, and I can assure her that the Government are committed to securing future free trade agreements that will open up markets for farmers in Wales. Indeed, the United Kingdom-Japan free trade agreement is particularly beneficial, as it will protect Welsh lamb under the new agreement on geographical indicators. Sheep farmers such as Rhug Estate have already welcomed the opportunity to export their high-quality lamb to Japan.

Educational Technology: Exports

The latest data gathered from a survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association indicates that UK EdTech exports are worth £170 million a year. That is expected to increase in light of the pandemic, which has lifted demand for EdTech products and services. The UK is well placed to take advantage of this trend as the fourth largest market globally. More important than the market value is the difference that good educational technology can make.

My hon. Friend will recall that, when we worked together on the international education strategy, EdTech was a key export growth area—and that was before, as he mentions, the focus that the pandemic put on its role. What can be done across Government to maximise the export potential of EdTech for the future?

My right hon. Friend is quite right. It was in his time as Secretary of State for Education that we built much closer ties between our Departments to make sure we could promote educational exports. He is also right to highlight the pandemic’s impact on EdTech. We are working with BESA, the British Educational Suppliers Association, and the Department for Education, his old Department, on a major EdTech event this month, which will connect companies with overseas buyers.

More activity is planned for later in the year in several key markets, supported by the international trade champion, Sir Steve Smith. That post, of course, came out of the work that my right hon. Friend did to develop the international education strategy. He will be pleased to know that we will soon be launching a refreshed international education strategy, in collaboration with the Department for Education and with the support of other Government Departments, that includes provisions to maximise EdTech’s export potential.

Services: EU Relationship

What discussions she plans to have with her EU counterparts on developing the relationship on services. (910770)

The trade co-operation agreement secures continued market access across key service sectors, including both professional and business services. The agreement also includes a commitment to review the services provisions with a view to making further improvements, along with a specific joint declaration on regulatory co-operation in financial services. Specifics will be taken forward by the Cabinet Office and Taskforce Europe.

Within a day of leaving the EU, shares worth billions of euros normally traded in the City of London flooded out of the EU to other European capitals such as Paris and Amsterdam. One trader told the Financial Times that this was a “stunning own goal” and only the beginning of the financial sector’s post-Brexit decline. We know that in Scotland seafood markets are already being decimated, but what is the Minister’s assessment of the damage Brexit will do to the UK’s financial sector and how many own goals can we expect in the future?

The memorandum of understanding on financial services ensures financial stability and consumer protection, and we look forward to that being negotiated. I was not surprised by this question, but I was a little bit surprised that the hon. Gentleman was the one asking it. It is not that long ago that he said:

“Leaving the European Union without a deal in place is an act of economic self-harm”.

But that is precisely what he voted for on 30 December.

The Prime Minister admitted that the deal is not up to the job on trade and services, and Brussels has made it clear that access will be restricted further if there is divergence from the EU’s standards. Is it the Government’s intention to give up access to that market, or will the UK remain wedded to the EU’s regulatory framework?

I have long experience in this space, having been a Treasury Minister, and there are of course advantages to the UK being able to set its own regulatory regime for financial services as the biggest financial services marketplace in Europe. I think the hon. Lady is wrong to characterise the treaty—she voted in favour of no deal—as not being good for services. There are good provisions on business travellers, excellent provisions on legal services, and very, very good provisions on digital and data. I am a little bit surprised that she is not more supportive of the deal.

UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement

What assessment she has made of the effect of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement on the UK’s position in global trade. (910756)

The agreement that we have struck with the EU is great for the UK. It delivers on our promise to the British people and takes back control of our laws, our borders and our money. It proves that we can succeed as an independent trading nation, and builds on the deal that we have struck covering 63 countries around the world.

I was genuinely interested in what the Secretary of State would say, because so far none of the 30-plus free trade deals that she has rolled over with non-EU countries since 2019 is actually set to deliver any increase in exports compared with what was previously forecast. According to her own economic impact assessments, even the Japan trade deal, which she has lauded, will result in only a £2.6 billion increase in UK exports, not the £4.3 billion forecast inside the EU. Can she explain—preferably without reverting to wishful thinking, personal attacks or party political rants—exactly how Britain is going to be better off?

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s political advice there. I note that he did not vote for a deal with the EU, even though he previously said that no deal was unacceptable. The figures that he is quoting on Japan from the EU are crude figures that are completely out of date and were created from data before the financial crisis in 2008. The fact is that the Japan deal that we have struck goes further and faster in areas such as data and digital, the creative industries, and food and drink—all areas where the UK has a comparative advantage. There are huge opportunities ahead, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to embrace them.

Over the last two years, the Government have placed, as the Secretary of State tells us frequently, more than 30 new trade agreements before the House. Every single one of them, of course, has been accompanied by an economic impact assessment.

The Secretary of State’s October agreement with Japan set a new standard for these documents, with over 100 pages analysing the impact of the deal on UK exports, jobs, business and growth. May I simply ask the Secretary of State, when are the Government going to publish the economic impact assessment for the UK’s trade agreement with the European Union?

The right hon. Lady will be well aware that the Department for International Trade is not responsible for negotiating the agreement with the European Union. That is a matter for Taskforce Europe, which has provided full data to this House. The House voted for the deal—including, I am delighted to see, the right hon. Lady.

I was not asking whether the Secretary of State was responsible; I was just thinking that, since she was in the Cabinet, she might know when the impact assessment was going to be published.

The reality is that we only need to watch the news to see the devastating economic damage being done to businesses across our country—especially the Scottish fishing industry—as a result of the new rules facing our exporters and the shocking way in which they are being implemented. Can the Secretary of State explain the logic? Why have the Government published full economic impact assessments for the trade agreements signed last month with Moldova and North Macedonia, but not for our trade agreement with the European Union?

The trade agreement with the European Union is something that the House has already voted on and supported, and which has happened. It is one of the largest agreements ever struck, duty free and quota free on products covering huge amounts of the British economy.

I encourage the right hon. Lady to move forward and focus on the areas for which the Department for International Trade has responsibility—namely, the 63 countries that we have covered with new trade deals, and our aspirations to strike trade deals with the US, New Zealand and Australia.

Human Rights Clauses: Trade Agreements

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade agreements. (910757)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade agreements. (910760)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade agreements. (910775)

The United Kingdom has long promoted its values globally. We are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of our values. While our approach to agreements will vary between partners, it will always allow this Government to open discussions on issues, including on rights and responsibilities.

Following on from the Minister’s response, successive UK Governments have believed in the principle that all new trade treaties should contain clauses allowing those treaties to be suspended if the other party engages in serious abuses of human rights, yet the UK recently signed new treaties with Singapore, Vietnam and Turkey, none of which had those clauses, despite ongoing concerns about the records of those countries. Can the Minister please explain why?

The hon. Lady might be misunderstanding the nature of the continuity programme for rolling over existing agreements. I point out that, on Turkey, the underlying agreement dates from 1963, and there were no human rights clauses in that agreement, but that does not mean to say that we do not have a robust discussion with Turkey on human rights. The EU-Vietnam framework agreement was separate and was not necessary to achieve trade continuity, but again we have a good dialogue with Vietnam on human rights. The UK and Singapore have agreed a UK-Singapore political joint statement to reflect our close partnership. Once that is signed, it will be published on

We have spent much time in this Chamber quite rightly talking about the fate of the Uyghurs and China’s treatment of them. Does the Minister agree that that issue needs to be dealt with in any trade deal, to ensure that we are not endorsing such genocidal actions?

I am extremely sympathetic to the hon. Lady’s question. The Foreign Secretary delivered an extensive statement on this topic on Tuesday. Of course, the UK is not negotiating a free trade agreement with China. However, the Foreign Secretary announced on Tuesday a review of export controls, financial penalties for organisations not complying with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, strengthening the overseas business risk guidance and making sure that the Government have the information we need to exclude suppliers complicit in human rights violations in Xinjiang.

May I ask the Minister very simply why he feels it was appropriate to roll over a trade agreement with Egypt, a country that routinely detains and executes political opponents and religious minorities, persecutes its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and suppresses democratic freedoms, and why no effort was made to strengthen the human rights provisions in that agreement?

The continuity programme is all about rolling over the deals that are there. I do not believe that there was any diminution of human rights provisions in the agreement with Egypt, or certainly of the effect of those provisions. We have a regular dialogue with Egypt on these issues. There is an extremely difficult internal security situation in Egypt, which the hon. Lady will know has affected British nationals directly as well. It is careful to get that balance right in all our dialogues with countries such as Egypt.

Topical Questions

In under two years, we have agreed trade deals covering 63 countries plus the EU, accounting for £885 billion of UK trade. This is unprecedented; no other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously. In 2021, we will add to these deals: negotiations are already under way with the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and our planned accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership will hitch Britain to the fastest-growing markets around the world.

Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the UK’s accession to the CPTPP and explain how exporters from my constituency could expect to benefit?

Accession to the CPTPP is a priority for this Government and a key part of our trade negotiation programme. We aim to make our formal notification of our intent to accede soon. This agreement will give huge opportunities for British business to export more goods. We already export more goods to the CPTPP countries than to China. For example, 95% of goods are tariff-free under the agreement, and the strong data and digital provisions will really help British tech firms.

The Prime Minister promised barrier-free trade with the EU post Brexit, but local firms that now find costly obstacles in VAT issues are finding the opposite, so could the Government please rectify the situation for firms that import from outside the EU to export to within it, because small British businesses have become less attractive than our EU competitors? Returns mean ruinous, cash flow-killing charges for a reverse transaction. Some of these firms have had to diversify after lockdown shut their shops, and many are on the brink of bankruptcy. (910808)

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), is running the Brexit business taskforce to ensure that the additional processes required of businesses are clear and to give businesses the support they need to be able to trade in the new environment.

The English language is arguably one of our top exports of all time, and English language schools are a vital part of the local economy in my destination constituency of Eastbourne. Can my hon. Friend assure my language schools, hospitality businesses and host families that Ministers are working with the sector to ensure its survival in these difficult days and working on plans for its success when it is once again safe for language learners to travel? (910805)

No one in this House has done more than my hon Friend to champion the English language sector under the pressures of covid. I congratulate her on today’s question and on the debate that she led in, I think, July, to which I had the honour of replying.

We are determined to champion the interests of the English language sector. That is why it is a key member of the education sector advisory group, which I co-chair with my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities. We are determined across Government to ensure that it can access Government schemes for support. My hon. Friend is also right to say that we should look ahead, and that is why we have produced an enterprise management incentive suppliers catalogue for China and are working to replicate that for growing markets such as Indonesia and Brazil. We have to help those businesses to survive today, and we have to put in place support for the future so that they can grow once again and be such an important part of our education sector and, indeed, our wider cultural offer to the world.

We were told that, as an independent nation, we could not get a free trade deal with the European Union, but we did. We have also signed more than 60 additional trade deals with nations all around the world, and that is undoubtedly a magnificent achievement for the world’s fifth largest economy. Can my right hon. Friend tell me how these trade deals impact us and what their potential value is to the UK economy? (910806)

The trade deals that we have secured are worth £885 billion of trade. What trade means is jobs. It means opportunities for firms to export abroad. It means strong supply chains for businesses across the United Kingdom. The FTAs that we have secured mean that UK traders will continue to enjoy preferential access to trade that covers 63% of UK trade. In the case of our deal with Japan, that deal goes further and faster, and that will bring more benefits to our tech companies, to our food and drink industry and, of course, to our fantastic creative industry.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister claimed that his trade deal allowed UK musicians and performers to “go play” in EU countries for 90 out of 180 days, but that is total nonsense unless they are supposed to play for free. What will the Department for International Trade do to fix the tangle of visas and permits that musicians, artists and performers have been landed in? (910816)

This has attracted some attention. I would remind the hon. Member that he voted for no deal on 30 December. I would also refer him to the article written by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in the New Musical Express this week, in which he said that the EU offer on this unfortunately fell short of the UK’s proposals and would not have enabled touring by musicians. He said:

“The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the EU on the temporary movement of business travellers, which would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the EU”.

Now that we have delivered on all our Brexit promises, exporters across the Bolsover constituency are keen to take advantage of new opportunities and grow in new markets. So will my hon. Friend tell me what opportunities will come from new and better trade deals with Mexico and Canada for businesses across the midlands? (910807)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is a great champion of business in his constituency, and I can tell him that the deals with Canada and Mexico give vital certainty to businesses across the midlands, which export goods and services worth about £15 billion, in key sectors such as automotive, manufacturing and food and drink. I know that these opportunities, and new ones, will be taken up by businesses—manufacturers and others—on the Holmewood business park in Shirebrook and across the Bolsover constituency.

Data is the lifeblood of modern economies, but the data provisions in the UK-Japan deal, which Ministers have been boasting about this morning, make it less likely that the EU will grant us the vital adequacy agreement that our researchers and businesses need in just a few months. So can Ministers explain how these contradictions are to be resolved? (910819)

I observe to the hon. Gentleman that Japan has data adequacy with the EU and it is also part of the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership, which has a strong digital and data chapter. So it is absolutely reasonable that we should be able to have both and be successful.

T9. This is largely a matter for the Treasury, but I just want assurances from the Government that when it comes to a freeport bid and the levelling-up agenda, which is at the heart of these new freeports, they will keep in mind the huge beneficial impact that being a freeport would have for Felixstowe. It employs 6,000 of my constituents, and there are deprived constituencies around Felixstowe, in Clacton and Ipswich. So I would like a commitment from the Government that that is very much at the centre of their thinking on these freeports. (910809)

My hon. Friend is right to advocate so passionately on behalf of his constituents, particularly those who need that opportunity and that levelling up. This is precisely what the levelling-up agenda and the freeport programme are about, and we are determined that the benefits of our free trade agenda should be shared right across the country, including in Ipswich. Freeports will attract new investors and drive trade and exports, all of which will help to regenerate communities across the UK, through high-skilled jobs and new infrastructure. It is so important that we work together as a House to champion business and jobs. Forget there being a division in the Labour party, its Front-Bench International Trade team could not—

Order, Mr Stuart. This questions session has not been good, because I am beginning to worry that we have very good answers to those on one side of the Chamber but the answers to those on the other mean that they are not getting the respect they deserve. In fact, on one occasion we had, “No, it is not our responsibility”, but then suddenly when another Member asked, we had, “It is our responsibility”. I want us to be concise in our treatment and the way we deal with all Members of this House. They are representing constituencies, and I expect them to get full and thorough answers, and not the political games, on all sides, that seem to be being played.

Small businesses in my constituency are struggling to cope with the complex bureaucracy regarding all aspects of trade since leaving the EU, from navigating immigration rules to dealing with export paperwork. So does the Secretary of State support the Federation of Small Businesses’ calls for the rapid introduction of vouchers worth £3,000 that small firms can spend on the tech, training and advice needed to get through this huge change to their business practice? (910826)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question—he is right to raise issues on behalf of small businesses in his constituency. The Government are in constant dialogue with business representative organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, for example at the Brexit business taskforce chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Government have of course provided an enormous amount of funding to make sure that businesses are ready for the end of the transition period.

Given the imminent return of the amended Trade Bill to the Chamber and the regaining of control over trade negotiations from Brussels after 46 years, does the Minister agree that ratification of new trade agreements should rest with elected representatives in this House, not Government bureaucrats? (910811)

Since we left the EU a year ago, no bureaucrats will ratify our trade agreements. The ratification of future free trade agreements will take place only once this Parliament has had the opportunity to scrutinise the detail of any trade deal and any necessary implementing legislation. We believe that our system of parliamentary scrutiny compares favourably with that of other Westminster-style democracies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

We all know the tremendous additional challenges that our businesses face in exporting goods to the EU, nowhere more so than the chemicals industry, which supports thousands of jobs on Teesside. The ideal situation would be for the UK to remain part of the EU REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—framework, thus accessing the services of the European Chemicals Agency, but Ministers seem to think differently and that could cost us £1 billion a year. How will the Government protect our chemicals industry going forward? (910828)

Our chemicals industry is extremely important and we are well aware of the issues in the industry with all its trade partners. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the EU deal is the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but I am sure that the chemicals industry will make its voice heard at the Brexit business taskforce. The Government stand ready to assist the industry, which, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, is vital for our future prosperity.

Thirsk and Malton is very lucky to have Karro and Cranswick—pork producers that employ hundreds of people at each of their sites—in the constituency. Their trade has been hit by the 25% tariff applied to exports of pork to the USA. What progress have we made to resolve that? (910812)

We are working very hard to de-escalate that tariff conflict and reach a negotiated settlement. I have been in discussions with the US and the EU and I will take up the matter on an urgent basis when the new US trade representative is confirmed in due course.

This week, Milton Keynes got yet another Government grant for a 5G piloting scheme. It is great for connectivity in our digital and technical sector. What plans has the Department to grow that sector internationally so that Milton Keynes can lead the world in digital and tech? (910813)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We are all well aware of the important role that Milton Keynes plays in technology innovation, electric vehicles and other transport technologies in particular, as well as other areas. That is why the UK is seeking to minimise the barriers to digital trade in particular, going further in the UK-Japan deal. We want to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of global dialogue on policy issues, for example, at the World Trade Organisation.

I am suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next business to be made.

Sitting suspended.