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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 15 April 2021

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Steel Import Tariffs

What recent assessment her Department has made of the effect of steel import tariffs on the UK steel industry. (914099)

First, may I associate myself with the tributes on Monday led by you, Mr Speaker, and the Prime Minister on the death of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, and the Humble Address of the House of Commons to Her Majesty?

We are committed to defending British industry and jobs and will not hesitate to take firm action where necessary, which is why we have safeguard measures in place. We know there are concerns that Chinese steel is receiving state subsidies that distort trade, so, working with our allies, we will challenge China and other countries to play by the rules.

Motherwell in my constituency was once the heart of steel production in Scotland and the rest of the UK, but consecutive UK Governments have overseen the decline of steel jobs in Scotland from thousands to just over 100. Will the UK Government provide certainty for steelworkers today, support domestic production, protect those remaining jobs and retain the tariffs on steel imports?

When the Trade Remedies Authority is set up, it will conclude its investigation, which it would be wrong to pre-empt. We are of course working for every corner of our United Kingdom, backing British businesses and supporting Scottish jobs as much as we are supporting those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland—at a time when the Scottish National party wants to cut itself off from its largest market: the British internal market.

I am afraid the 5,000 workers at Liberty Steel will not have been reassured by the Minister’s answer. The collapse of Greensill Capital has created serious problems at Liberty Steel and is one of many reasons why the entire British steel industry now urgently needs leadership, stability and support from the Government. Can we get some clarity? Retaining the import tariffs is a political decision. Will the Minister play his part today by guaranteeing that the Government will retain the vital safeguard tariffs that Britain currently has in place against cheap steel imports for the full financial year ahead—no ifs, no buts and no maybes?

I do love the authenticity with which the hon. Gentleman asked his question; of course, if it were a political decision, he would be calling for it to be independent. It is an independent decision. The Trade Remedies Authority has teeth and will act accordingly. Just like this Government, our Trade Remedies Authority is going to defend the British national industry, back British jobs and support people throughout our United Kingdom.

UK Exports to the US: Tariffs

What recent discussions she has had with her US counterpart on not re-imposing tariffs on UK exports to the US. (914100)

I am delighted that the United States responded to our de-escalation of retaliatory tariffs in January and has removed the 25% tariff on Scotch whisky and other products. This is fantastic news for the 50,000 people whose jobs rely on the industry. I am working with Ambassador Tai to get a long-term resolution to the Airbus-Boeing dispute.

The Scotch whisky industry is of economic importance to a large number of the most economically fragile communities in the highlands and islands, so I genuinely wish the Secretary of State very well in her endeavours to get the removal of tariffs made permanent. Is the situation that the Prime Minister has created in Northern Ireland helping or hindering the engagement with the Biden Administration?

We are extremely committed to the Good Friday agreement and have had frequent discussions with the Biden Administration. I am having very positive discussions with my counterpart Katherine Tai about resolving the Airbus-Boeing dispute—which has been going on for 16 years—to the benefit of the Scotch whisky industry, other industries throughout the UK and industries such as aerospace, in which we need Airbus to be able to compete.

Madainn mhath, Mr Speaker.

The digital-service-tax threats from the USA show that the Biden Administration value their special relationship with big tech more than the one with the UK. The threat to the tax sovereignty of the UK and a number of other countries indicates that there is not really a relationship of equals. Is not the prospect of a trade deal with the USA pretty dead? In any case, the 0.2% of GDP that such a deal was going to recover was only a fraction of the damage done by Brexit. Has the Secretary of State accepted that fact yet?

We are urging the United States to desist from any more tit-for-tat tariffs disputes, including in respect of a digital services tax. We think that the best way to resolve the issue is through the process that the Chancellor is leading at the OECD. We are in further discussions with the United States not just to end the Airbus tariff dispute but to work with the United States at the G7 to challenge unfair practices in the global trading system by countries such as China.

UK Steel Producers: Level Trading Field

What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to help ensure a level trading field for UK steel producers while the EU and US maintain import controls on steel goods. (914101)

What steps her Department is taking to help ensure a level trading field for UK steel producers while the EU and US maintain import controls on steel goods. (914146)

The Government back the British steel industry, as we have heard already this morning, and the unjustified US tariffs on steel, aluminium and derivatives imports from Britain are completely unfair and wholly unnecessary. Our rebalancing measures in response to the US section 232 on additional tariffs show that we will defend the British national interest and the rules-based system.

Our steelworkers make the best steel that money can buy but, thanks to the indifference of successive Conservative Governments since 2010, they are constantly being made to compete with one hand tied behind their back. They are already dealing with the highest industrial energy prices in Europe and a Government procurement policy that fails the patriotism test, and now they face the possibility that, in June, steel safeguards that guard against import surges will be removed. Does the Minister agree that, if the Government were to remove those safeguards, it would add insult to injury and again undermine the ability of our steel industry to compete on a level playing field?

As the hon. Member knows, the British steel industry has benefited from investment of more than £500 million in recent years to help with the costs of energy, and we have announced a £250 million fund to support the decarbonisation of the industry. So this Government are dedicated to supporting the future of the steel industry and we will continue that work.

Removing these measures would lead to the UK being one of the only steel markets without any protective measures for its steel industries. Does the Minister not agree that, while global overcapacity stands at over 500 million tonnes, it would be unwise to become a rare exposed market for steel when larger markets are still protected?

Mr Speaker, there are only so many times that I can say the same thing in a different way, but we have transitioned 19 of the EU’s measures and we have adopted systems in Britain for trade remedies based on international best practice to ensure that there is independence in this area. I say to the hon. Lady, as I have said already to her Scottish nationalist colleague, that the biggest market for Scotland is of course the British internal market, from which she is determined to tear Scotland.

Unfair Trading Practices

What steps she is taking to tackle the use of (a) trade-distorting subsidies and (b) other unfair trading practices. (914102)

It is completely wrong that other countries are applying unfair practices to undermine fantastic British products. I am working with the new director of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi, to ensure that other countries play by the global rules of free trade.

The wool trade started in Norfolk in medieval times, many, many years ago, and we have always been an outward-looking area to the world, but for trade to be free, it must also be fair. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what steps she is taking to protect vital industries to ensure that they are not undercut by those unscrupulous countries that engage in unfair trading practices?

We are establishing the new Trade Remedies Authority—which, of course, the Opposition voted against—in the Trade Bill, which will ensure that all countries follow the WTO rules. It will look at the evidence and be unafraid to recommend countervailing duties on exports when other countries do not play by the rules, so Chinese products, such as steel and ceramics, that receive unfair state subsidies that will distort trade and damage British business will be tackled.

Jobs in Yorkshire

What recent estimate she has made of the number of jobs in Yorkshire that are delivered by international trade. (914104)

New research published alongside the Board of Trade paper “Global Britain, local jobs” estimates that 418,000 jobs were supported by exports in 2016 in Yorkshire and Humber. [Interruption.] Of course, the shadow Secretary of State laughs at the mention of jobs. It is notable how, in session after session, one issue that the she does not focus on is jobs and the livelihoods on which people depend. Of those jobs—I thank her for stopping her chuntering from a sedentary position. Of those jobs—[Interruption.] Oh, she has not stopped. Of those jobs, 234,000 were supported directly by exporting businesses, while a further 184,000 form part of the UK supply chain of exporting businesses.

I recently hosted an online Department for International Trade roundtable with local businesses, giving advice and support on exporting. Will the Minister please thank his team for helping to host that session? Will he make sure that the Department continues to invest in regional exporting advisers to support businesses across Colne Valley and Yorkshire so that we can continue to take full advantage of the new, exciting opportunities that international trade is bringing?

I thank my hon. Friend: is it not fantastic and uplifting to have someone who is genuinely dedicated to supporting and promoting the jobs upon which so many families depend? I am delighted that he has joined DIT’s parliamentary export programme, as have colleagues from right across this House, supporting and encouraging businesses to grow internationally, including through unlocking the benefits of the free trade agreements. As he rightly highlights, DIT has 28 international trade advisers dedicated to the Yorkshire region who help small and medium-sized enterprises to fulfil their exporting potential and connect them to international business opportunities.

Trade and Investment in Wales

Last month, I announced our new trade and investment hub in Wales, which will support almost 200,000 exporters and channel investment into Wales. It will play a crucial role in the export-led, jobs-led recovery for Wales.

The UK Government’s plan for a trade and investment hub in Wales is welcome support for business here in Wales. It will support exporters and help to restore inward investment in Wales to the levels we enjoyed in the past. What benefits has the Secretary of State identified that the hub will bring to exporters here in Aberconwy and across north Wales?

The trade and investment hub will provide support to business across Wales. There are already 2,000 people in Aberconwy working in export-intensive industries. The trade hub will provide support, including for Welsh lamb exports, which have resumed after more than 20 years to countries such as Japan.

The Government’s “Global Britain, local jobs” analysis does not take into account Brexit or covid, it ignores Welsh farming and Welsh steel production, and it appears to think that there are still 1,500 people employed in car production in Bridgend, which sadly there are not. Does the Secretary of State therefore think that this outdated, incomplete analysis is a reliable foundation on which to base her trade policy for Wales?

The analysis that we produced as part of “Global Britain, local jobs” is the first time that we have produced data at a constituency level for export industries, and it always takes time for statistics to be processed. The new Trade Bill has enabled us to get access to more up-to-date data that we will of course continue to update our strategy with. I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the new trade hub that we are establishing in Cardiff, which will bring more investment to Wales—so let us hear from him.

I think what the Secretary of State meant to say was that there is room for improvement, and that is certainly true. The stark reality is that Wales is getting a raw deal from the Trade Department. According to her own figures, the Department delivered 638 new inward investment projects for London but just 62 for Wales—a lower number of new investment projects than in any region in England, and for three years in a row. How can she justify those figures?

We are establishing a trade and investment hub in Cardiff this year that will employ up to 100 people precisely to bring more investment into Wales, more jobs into Wales, and more export opportunities into Wales.

Arms Exports: International Humanitarian Law

What steps she is taking with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that arms exported from the UK are not deployed in contravention of international humanitarian law. (914107)

All arms exports require an export licence. I can assure the House that we take our export control responsibilities very seriously. We rigorously assess every application on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, taking advice from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence. We will not issue an export licence where to do so would be inconsistent with the consolidated criteria, including where there is a clear risk that the items might be used for a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

The Yemeni community in Liverpool would like to know how the Minister can possibly justify the decision of his Department to increase its sales of bombs and missiles for use in Yemen to new record highs, while his friends at the Foreign Office are simultaneously cutting the amount of humanitarian aid going to starving Yemeni children. Does he accept that this is not just wrong, but downright immoral?

Not only are Her Majesty’s Government one of the biggest donors of aid around the world, including to Yemen, but as was set out in the Secretary of State’s written statement, we have devised a clear and revised methodology to make sure we will only license such products if they are consistent with the consolidated criteria.

Trade Policies: Farmers

What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect of her Department’s trade policies on UK farmers. (914108)

We want to sell more British food around the world and help farmers make the most of our trade deals with 66 nations, plus the EU. We launched the Open Doors campaign, which will help our farmers to export to the world’s fastest growing markets.

It is well documented that the food produced by our farmers is world class and demand around the world is increasing. Can my right hon. Friend build on the success of her FTAs, especially with Japan, in opening up markets for Welsh lamb and beef, including the United States? There was success with the United States on beef, and hopefully there will be on lamb. Can she update us in particular on the United States and Japan?

Welsh farmers export £144 million of lamb and beef around the world, and the recent opening of the US market to beef and the Japanese market to lamb will boost the figures further. Last month, I visited Kepak, which is already shipping beef to the US from farms across Wales, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to join me in thanking Tim Smith and all the members of the Trade and Agriculture Commission for their final report published last month. Can I start by asking her when the Government intend to publish the core set of standards that the commission has called for, setting out the UK’s minimum requirements for tariff reductions when it comes to food safety, the environment and animal welfare?

I completely agree with the right hon. Lady that Tim Smith and the team produced a fantastic report laying out the future for British agricultural trade, and I am also delighted that she welcomes the recommendations to promote the liberalisation of trade to influence innovation and productivity, and price and choice for consumers. We will be responding to the report in due course.

I thank the Secretary of State for the answer, but it is vital that when this House comes to examine the upcoming trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, we are able to judge them against that core set of standards. Can I ask her to make it clear today that there will be no proposed reduction in tariffs as a result of those two agreements for any agricultural products that do not meet Britain’s core standards?

Part of the Trade Bill was the establishment of the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission. For every free trade agreement, it will produce a report on precisely the issues that the right hon. Lady outlines. I am very pleased that our partners in Australia and New Zealand are two countries with very high standards in animal welfare.

Trade Sanctions on Exports from Xinjiang

What recent discussions she has had with her US counterpart on trade sanctions on exports from Xinjiang. (914110)

The Secretary of State spoke with the US trade representative, Katherine Tai, on 22 March. They discussed a number of issues, including how the United Kingdom and the United States will collaborate to address shared concerns on serious matters such as forced labour. The Secretary of State also discussed the issue of forced labour with Ambassador Tai and her G7 counterparts during the G7 Trade Ministers meeting that she chaired on 31 March.

The Magnitsky-style sanctions against China are only the first step. While we welcome them, trade relations cannot be left out. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that UK consumers are not buying goods made with forced labour, and will the UK follow the US in banning imports of cotton from China’s Xinjiang region?

We are adopting a targeted approach to this issue, to make sure that we address the violations of rights and responsibilities. We have designated individuals and entities that have been involved in such violations. This is a smart tool, carefully targeted to achieve its goals, while minimising potentially negative wider impacts. It is not designed with a view to imposing sanctions on sectors within countries, for example.

UK and Sweden: Trade and Business Relationships

Sweden is a close ally of the UK on trade policy and a close partner in our day-to-day trading relationship. I was the first UK Minister to visit Sweden after the EU referendum, and through our excellent DIT team in Stockholm, we work hard to promote trade and investment between the UK and Sweden.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. According to a recent report by the Swedish chamber of commerce for the UK, almost 40% of Swedish businesses are optimistic about business growth in the UK and 70% continue to see the UK as an important step in international expansion. Does he agree that developing links with this greatest Scandinavian country, which shares our values and our growing economy, would be good for the UK, good for jobs and good for developing relations with our partners in the European Union?

I commend my hon. Friend for his work as the chairman of the British-Swedish all-party parliamentary group and his mention of the excellent Swedish chamber of commerce for the UK, which was on one of my recent webinars. In my recent call with Swedish Trade Minister Anna Hallberg, we agreed to co-host a bilateral trade and business forum later this year. We have excellent trade co-operation with Sweden in sectors such as technology, financial services, defence and clean energy, so I very much share my hon. Friend’s optimism.

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

What recent assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the UK joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. (914112)

Joining the CPTPP is a massive opportunity for UK businesses, in particular those in areas such as financial services and digital, where the rules are world-leading. It will also cut tariffs for businesses in vital industries such as cars and whisky and help to drive our exports-led, jobs-led recovery from covid.

The very first of the 238 questions put to the Secretary of State in a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on accession to the CPTPP asked her whether the UK will have the right to negotiate exemptions from those provisions of the agreement to which we do not wish to accede and amendments to those provisions to which we wish to make improvements, or whether it is her intention to join the CPTPP accepting all its current provisions in full. What is the Secretary of State’s answer?

The CPTPP is a very high-standards agreement, and the rules will have huge benefits for the UK. The reality is that UK products such as beef and lamb have been locked out of overseas markets for unfair reasons, so it is in our interests to sign up to a high-standards, good-rules agreement.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said, there are at least 238 questions that the Secretary of State has to address on the subject of this agreement, and I look forward to receiving her answers soon, but today I want to ask her one simple one: can she guarantee that this Parliament will have as much time to scrutinise the proposed terms of accession to CPTPP before a vote on whether or not to approve them as the Australia, Canada and New Zealand Parliaments had before their respective votes?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question—she clearly comes from a profession where she was paid by the number of questions she asked. I will be delighted to answer all those questions and more when we publish the public bundle, which will include the scoping assessment and our negotiation objectives. We will publish that at the time of launching our negotiations, and we will also have full parliamentary scrutiny, including by the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission, in line with parliamentary systems across the world.

UK Exports: Germany, Italy and Ireland

What recent estimate her Department has made of the value of UK exports to (a) Germany, (b) Italy and (c) Ireland in 2021. (914113)

The UK greatly values its trade with each of Germany, Italy and Ireland. All trade data is currently volatile, especially due to the pandemic, but data released earlier this week showed a monthly upwards bounce in UK goods exports to the EU to £11.6 billion in February from £7.9 billion in January, including increases to all three countries referred to in the question.

I appreciate that those on the Government Benches prefer breathless rhetoric to harsh reality, but the statistics to which the Minister refers are really quite clear for rural Scotland. Its meat exports remain down 52%, fish and shellfish are down 54%, dairy and eggs down 39%, beverages down 34%, cereals down 40%, and fruit and veg down 54%. Would the Minister like to apologise to the tens of thousands of people across rural Scotland who are in daily dread and fear of what their economic future holds?

I thank the hon. Member for that follow-up question, and I wonder if, to coin a phrase, he has perhaps taken his eye off the ball, because actually there was a bounce back in trade in February. I will give him an independent view from the Office for National Statistics, which on the trade data says:

“Exports of food and live animals to the EU increased…in February 2021, after being significantly impacted in January… Exports of fish and shellfish to the EU also saw an uptick in February 2021 as exporters adjust to new regulations following the end of the transition period. The disruptions to food exports in January 2021 appear to have largely been overcome and may have only had short-term impacts on trade.”

That is from the Office for National Statistics, which he may seek to consult.

I am delighted the Minister has quoted the ONS, because figures out this week show economic output remaining nearly 8% below the pre-pandemic peak and exports to Germany, Italy and Ireland down by as much as 50% to 75%. These are not teething problems; they are the bite of long Brexit. Does the Minister agree with Matt Griffith from the British Chambers of Commerce that his members are experiencing a

“permanent deterioration in their competitive position due to higher admin, paperwork and shipping costs”?

It is good to have an argument about statistics, but actually the UK exports to the EU in February of £11.6 billion were only just below the monthly average for the whole of 2020, which was obviously very impacted by the pandemic, of £12 billion. I would caution against using statistics in this way—we need to see the bigger picture—but I refer the hon. Member back to what the ONS said. On the help we are providing for exporters, we have various Government helplines, the Brexit business taskforce, Brexit SME support and various measures in place specifically to support the agricultural sector and the Scottish seafood sector.

Let us come away from statistics and back to what is happening. JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon wrote to staff this month warning them that it will move all its EU-faced business out of London and into Europe. He says:

“Brexit was accomplished, but many issues still need to be negotiated. And in those negotiations, Europe has had, and will continue to have, the upper hand.”

The financial services sector is a huge employer in Scotland, and it is also facing this Westminster-inflicted disaster. Can the Minister now see why people in Scotland want to have their choice and their say over their own future?

The hon. Member will know that there is of course a financial services memorandum of understanding between the UK and the EU, and we are acutely aware of the importance of the financial services sector, not least to my constituency as well. Many, I have to say, were surprised when the SNP voted for no deal on 30 December, especially after Nicola Sturgeon called it “unthinkable”. However, I have to say that I was not as surprised, because over the years I have seen the SNP vote against every single UK or EU trade deal, so the idea that it was going to vote in favour of a trade deal between the two of them was, frankly, highly unlikely. The SNP is anti-business, anti-jobs and against Scotland’s best interests.

Trading Relationship with Tunisia

What recent assessment she has made of the potential merits of strengthening the UK’s trading relationship with Tunisia. [R] (914114)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Tunisia and Libya. There is great merit in strengthening the trading relationship with Tunisia. Our trade deal entered into force at the beginning of this year and it provides a platform to deepen trade and investment. As he knows, we are already supporting businesses such as Unilever, AstraZeneca and Vodafone, who already operate in Tunisia, and we look forward to backing British businesses to do even more.

Tunisia is a leading exporter of olive oil and wants to export more to the UK, but minimum quota requirements based on the last two years are making this difficult. Will my hon. Friend look into this so that trade is made easy with Tunisia, which is eager to build an even stronger trading partnership with the UK?

I am aware of this matter and am keen to make sure that businesses can make the most of our transition to trade agreements, so I will look into it. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend and my Tunisian counterpart to open up and promote opportunities for British and Tunisian businesses; more trade means more jobs.

Jobs in Teesside

What recent estimate she has made of the number of jobs in Teesside that are delivered by international trade. (914115)

My hon. Friend will be delighted that Teesside will benefit from one of eight new freeports, unlocking billions of pounds of private sector investment, and it will also help British businesses not just in his constituency but across the whole of the UK, including the 300,000 export-linked jobs in the north-east.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer and for her support for Teesside exporters. From raw chemicals to plastics and steel, Teesside manufacturers rely on global trade, so I am grateful to her Department for the work it has done, alongside Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, to bring more jobs, including in her Department, to the Tees valley. Can she outline when we might start to see these DIT jobs coming to Teesside, and what is her message to the people of the Tees valley ahead of the important elections next month?

My message is that Ben Houchen is doing a fantastic job, as is my hon. Friend. I am delighted that we are establishing a new trade hub in Darlington, which is only half an hour’s drive from my hon. Friend’s constituency. There are over 4,000 jobs in export-related industries in Redcar, including in the chemicals industry, and we will be doing even more to support them with the new Darlington trade hub.

Free Trade Agreements: Professional Business Services

The UK is a world leader in professional business services and the second biggest exporter of PBS globally, with a trade surplus of £33 billion in 2018. To support this important and diverse sector, we are seeking ambitious FTA commitments in cross-cutting areas like mobility and digital, as well as tackling specific behind-the-border regulatory barriers such as recognition and professional qualifications.

The Minister will forgive me for being a bit concerned about ongoing red tape in post-Brexit trade with the European Union. This is affecting businesses in Bracknell and beyond. Will he please outline what his Department is doing to support the Cabinet Office in resolving this?

DIT has very active participation in the current helplines for businesses facing issues in exporting to the EU. We participate, of course, in the Brexit business taskforce, we provide a DIT internationalisation fund for those looking to export, and we have 300 international trade advisers across the country and at posts right across the European Union. This is a whole-of-Government effort, and, as I said earlier, the data are starting to show encouraging signs of a recovery in our trade.

Many of my Kensington constituents work in professional services, whether financial services, law, consulting or accountancy. These industries account for a huge amount of gross value added to our economy. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the professional services sector will be at the forefront of our minds in negotiating future trade deals?

My hon. Friend and neighbour puts it extremely well. Professional business services are vital for her constituency, for mine and for the whole country. Around 79% of gross value added and 80% of employment in this country is in services. As she knows, we secured special provisions for legal services in the EU agreement. I meet regularly with bodies such as TheCityUK, the City of London Corporation, UK Finance, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, the Law Society, the Bar Council and others to ensure that professional business services are right at the heart of the UK’s trade agenda.

Trade Relationship with the Middle East

Britain has strong bilateral trading relationships with our friends in the middle east and a clear ambition to deepen them. As my right hon. Friend knows, we are undertaking a joint trade and investment review with the Gulf Co-operation Council, with which total trade stood at over £33 billion in the year to September 2020. The Government have also signed trade agreements with Jordan and Lebanon, and just last month we entered into an agreement with the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi to provide £1 billion of investment into British life sciences.

Today is Yom Ha’atzmaut—Israeli independence day—so I hope that my hon. Friend will wish Israel happy independence day. The normalisation of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last year was a hugely positive step not only for regional peace but for commerce, tourism and cultural exchanges. Does my hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom is well placed to support our ally Israel in developing ties in the region, and will he explore the opportunities that these new trade relationships could bring to our country?

Indeed I do join my right hon. Friend in wishing all Israelis a happy independence day. He is right to recognise the strong relationships that we have with the state of Israel. We welcome the normalisation of relations, which creates many opportunities for increased trade, tourism and cultural links as well. Britain is well placed to support Israel in this endeavour. Total trade between us was £4.9 billion in the year to September 2020, up from the previous year. We are building a framework for a new bilateral science partnership. In addition, the tech hub based in the British embassy in Tel Aviv continues to partner Israeli expertise with British companies, delivering significant benefits to the British economy.

Jobs in the North-west

What recent estimate she has made of the number of jobs in the north-west that are delivered by international trade. (914118)

Export activity helped support a further 472,000 jobs in the region through the consumption spending of export workers in the wider economy. In total, more than 1.1 million jobs—not a laughing matter, Mr Speaker—in the region are linked to exports in some way.

Napoleon said that Britain was a nation of shopkeepers; I want to say that Bolton is a town of exporters. I recently hosted the parliamentary export programme in Bolton North East, seeking to help Bolton businesses such as Ajax Equipment and Velden Engineering to take advantage of new trading relations. Across Greater Manchester, foreign direct investment and foreign capital investment are worth £37 billion to the local economy. What actions is the Minister taking to put Bolton North East at the forefront of the global stage when it comes to research and development?

It is as much my hon. Friend as me who is putting Bolton North East at the forefront. He has joined colleagues as a member of the parliamentary export programme, and I congratulate him on hosting a recent event. He will have seen that we are working hard to help Bolton North East companies take advantage of new global opportunities and promoting a strong north-west R&D offer to international investors through the high potential opportunities programme in frontier sectors such as molecular diagnostics, lightweighting and sustainable packaging.

Future Trade Deals: Human Rights Clauses

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights into future trade deals. (914119)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights into future trade deals. (914129)

The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally. We are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Although our approach to agreements will vary between partners, our strong economic relationships allow us to have open discussions on a range of issues, including human rights and responsibilities.

In a leaked recording last month, the Foreign Secretary said he wants to do trade deals with countries that violate international standards on human rights, as not doing so would mean missing out on profit. Will the record now be set straight? Does the Minister recognise the remarks made by the Foreign Secretary as Government policy and is this the view shared by the Department for International Trade?

I think the hon. Lady has misquoted the Foreign Secretary in her account of what he said, but let me be absolutely clear that we will continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally and remains absolutely committed to its international obligations. We are currently negotiating with Australia, New Zealand and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. They will all be important partners and they are all places that the UK will be engaging with when it comes to questions of maintenance and international support for global human rights.

I will make the Minister’s life a bit easier when answering the question. Last month, the Foreign Secretary explained that there were some countries whose behaviour on human rights put them “beyond the pale” when it comes to trade agreements, but that otherwise we should be open to deals with anyone. Can the Minister of State save us some time by listing those countries whose behaviour the Government regard as beyond the pale and those that they regard as acceptable?

Again, I will have to go back and see exactly what the Foreign Secretary said, but I think the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of what he said is not quite right. Let us be absolutely clear. I ask him to have a look at the roll-over trade agreements we have already done with 66 countries and see if he can identify any diminution of human rights in the agreements we have already done.

Topical Questions

On 4 March, we struck a historic deal with the US Administration, heralding the end of the 16-year Airbus-Boeing dispute. The deal removes the 25% tariffs on some UK exports, such as Scotch whisky, cashmere and machinery. It paves the way for an even deeper trading relationship with one of our closest friends and allies. I continue to work with the US trade representative on the deal and on our broader trading relationship.

As co-chair of the all-party group for Fairtrade, may I please ask the Secretary of State what steps her Department is taking to make sure that our trade policies help and support Fairtrade farmers and growers across the world?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work on the all-party group. The UK is a long-standing supporter and champion of Fairtrade. We are opening up markets with developing countries such as Kenya and Ghana. We will shortly be launching our new general scheme of preferences, which will give more access to developing countries, helping them to grow through trade.

The New Zealand Government announced last month their policy towards countries such as the UK seeking to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They said: “New members…will need to comply with the existing…agreement. The text of the Agreement will not change. Current rules and obligations…will not change.” Is the Secretary of State concerned that that sounds very much like we will be rule-takers in the CPTPP, rather than rule-makers? (914265)

The UK is a country that follows the rules. We have very high standards in areas like the environment, animal welfare, food standards and intellectual property. It is in our interests to be in an agreement with high standards, so that we can ask the same of other countries and get access to their markets. That is the point of signing trade agreements.

As we follow the covid-19 road map and move from response to recovery, it is vital that we offer our small and medium-sized businesses the tools and support that they need to find new markets, grow their exports and spur on our economic growth. Will the Minister set out what steps the Department is taking to make sure that our SMEs are supported on the world stage? (914272)

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the importance of supporting SMEs precisely to get into that international business space. That is why we are developing a new export strategy. We have the developing Export Academy, with a range of toolkits and information to support small businesses. We have the internationalisation fund: £38 million of grants to help businesses to overcome any barriers to international trade. Last but not least, we have UK Export Finance, our award-winning credit agency, which has increasing numbers of staff not only across this United Kingdom, but across the world to make sure that SMEs, wherever they go, can be financed and supported to realise those opportunities, which are many.

Sixty per cent. of Wales’s exports have been to the EU and steel is of great importance. Given that the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts showed that the Brexit deal would lead to a 4% reduction in our GDP, and given that they are removing the safeguards on steel in June, does the Secretary of State accept that the overall amount and value of exports from Wales in the next five years will be less than it was in the previous five years due to the Government’s policies? (914266)

First, we are not removing the safeguards in June. When we were part of the EU, decisions about safeguards were made on an independent basis. Nobody on the Opposition side of the House complained about that then, but they seem to object to independent decisions being made when we are a sovereign nation, which I find utterly bizarre. And I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s pessimistic prognosis of the future of Welsh exports. We have massive opportunities for more beef exports, more lamb exports, more car exports and more aerospace exports, and that is what we are going to do through our new trade and investment hub in Cardiff. It is going to be driving those opportunities and I urge him to get behind it.

In Ipswich, we are fortunate to have an incredibly engaged local Indian community, many of whom run businesses sourcing goods coming from India. Also down the road, let us not forget, is Felixstowe, which takes in most of the goods that come in from India and then go around the rest of the country. Do the Government have any plans to closely engage with local communities, such as the Indian community in Ipswich, and possibly introduce cultural exchanges to bridge any cultural barriers there may be and therefore increase and boost trade between our country and our close friends, India? (914274)

I would be delighted to engage with the local Indian community in Ipswich and across the country, because I think we have huge opportunities to expand our trade with India. It is currently £24 billion, but it could be so much more. We are currently working on an enhanced trade partnership with the Indian Government and I look forward to engaging with my hon. Friend and the people of Ipswich to make it happen.

May I ask the Secretary of State if she understands the frustration of the Cheshire Cheese Company, whose co-founder, I understand, spoke to officials in her Department before Easter about the problems that they are facing exporting to the EU? Extraordinarily, instead of being given advice on how to fix the problem, they were advised to look for other emerging markets. Given the Secretary of State’s infamous passion for cheese, will she tell us whether her departmental officials could not have done better? (914267)

Since the announcement that Immingham and the Humber ports have been designated as a freeport and that their application scored high in every category, businesses from around my constituency have been contacting me to welcome the announcement. They see it as part of the Government’s global Britain policies. What plans does the Department have to ensure that they can benefit from the freeport and explore new markets? (914277)

Like my hon. Friend, I am celebrating the freeport, which will make a positive difference and from which businesses will be able to export all around the world. Our export academy, the new export strategy and other elements are all there to help them to make the most of it, as well as, of course, probably the most ambitious trade policy ever conducted by a major economy in history, which we are successfully prosecuting. If I may, Mr Speaker, I would also like to thank my hon. Friend for briefing me ahead of my visit to Serbia last week, prosecuting the case for British businesses, in his role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the western Balkans.

It is now almost six weeks since the Government signed a trade agreement between the UK and Cameroon, which many of us want to read, to see how it will address the shocking human rights abuses taking place in that country. Will the Secretary of State explain why the agreement has not yet been laid before Parliament, and will she guarantee a debate when it is? (914269)

The text, and a parliamentary report and explanatory memorandum, will of course come before Parliament in due course. We wish to utilise the agreement to strengthen the trade ties between our two countries. I look forward to the Labour party supporting our agenda to create more jobs in every part of this country and in Cameroon.

I have been delighted to work with the excellent team at the Department of International Trade in setting up the parliamentary export programme in Wakefield, which several Wakefield businesses have joined. The programme has allowed them to learn the benefits of exporting under the free trade agreements that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her excellent, dynamic team have signed thus far. With more free trade agreements to be ratified, including with blocs such as the CPTPP, can my right hon. Friend outline to the House what benefits these new agreements will bring to businesses in Wakefield and across West Yorkshire? (914280)

I thank my hon. Friend for promoting the trade agenda so effectively in Wakefield. He is quite right that free trade agreements have a crucial role to play in enabling the UK to seize international opportunities to support that economic vision. Joining CPTPP now will benefit businesses in a number of ways, including through ambitious rules supporting digital trade and reduced tariffs on UK exports, enabling us to build back better and building more opportunities for businesses, supporting jobs in constituencies such as Wakefield.

In its annual report on human rights around the world, Amnesty International says that the UK Government’s increasingly hostile attitude towards upholding and preserving human rights legislation raises “serious concerns”. Indeed, the report specifically cited the resumption of the sale of new licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia. Does the Minister agree with Amnesty International’s conclusion that this shameful move has contributed to the UK’s“headlong rush into abandoning...human rights”? (914275)

Not at all. We have always been clear that more trade need not come at the expense of our values, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear earlier today. We have one of the most robust systems of arms export controls in the world and have always been clear that we will only permit exports on a case-by-case basis where the consolidated criteria are upheld.

Will my right hon. Friend set out what progress her Department is making on meeting the 2.3% public sector apprenticeship target and when it will meet it, and also say what she is doing to encourage all the businesses that she speaks to about international trade to employ apprentices? (914288)

I commend my right hon. Friend for his work to promote apprenticeships, first in the Government and then as Chair of the Education Committee. It is too early to have final figures for 2021, but we are confident of achieving the legislative target set, building on our previous performance. According to Cabinet Office statistics, DIT achieved 3.5% of its total workforce in England as apprenticeship starts in 2019-20, up from 1.1% the year before, easily clearing the target of 2.3%.

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

Sitting suspended.