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Topical Questions

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 14 January 2021

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.