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Trade Agreements: SMEs

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 10 June 2021

Employing 17 million people and generating £2.3 trillion in turnover, small and medium-sized enterprises are vital to increasing UK trade. That is why we are continuing to seek SME chapters and SME-friendly provisions throughout all our free trade agreements. Outside the SME chapter, the wider benefits of the agreements—for example, reducing customs costs, supporting intellectual property rights, facilitating mutual recognition of professional qualifications and increasing regulatory transparency—will help to level the field between SMEs and large businesses.

Small and medium-sized farms across the country are rightly worried that this weekend’s agreement with Australia and the precedent it will set for future trade deals will not just undermine their business but destroy them. Last November, the Minister of State promised these farmers that the new trade and agriculture commission would mean that

“all the National Farmers Unions…will play an active role in assessing trade agreements going forward”—[Official Report, 17 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 190.]

and that as a consequence the farming industry’s interests would be “advanced and protected” by the TAC. Does he stand by those statements today?

I thank the right hon. Lady for those questions and I absolutely stand by that. We are involving NFUs from all four nations; I have met NFU Scotland’s Martin Kennedy twice in recent weeks. We are confident that the new trade and agriculture commission will be up and running in good time for it to conduct its statutory review of the Australia free trade agreement.

I thank the Minister for that answer but the British farming industry knows the truth: the trade and agriculture commission it was promised to defend the interests of British farmers is not the one advertised by the Government this week, and my question to the Minister of State is simply this: why? What are the Government so scared of? If they are confident that their deal with Australia will benefit British farmers, not undermine them, why do they not have the courage of their convictions and establish the trade and agriculture commission on the basis that farmers were promised last November and let the voice of British farming deliver its verdict on the deal?

We—myself, the Secretary of State and the whole of the Department for International Trade—listen very carefully, of course, to the voices of British farmers. The Secretary of State opened expressions of interest to become members of the trade and agriculture commission just this week. It is very important to understand that the role of the commission never has been to advise on negotiations; its role will be as debated and approved during the passage of the Trade Act 2021 and the Agriculture Act 2020, and we are looking forward to seeing its scrutiny later this year.

Many happy returns to you today, Mr Speaker.

SMEs make up the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry and the Minister likes to talk about whisky, so let us talk about the reality for the industry resulting from the Government’s trade policy. Speyside Distillery, winner of best whisky at the world whisky awards, tells me that sales are dramatically down since Brexit and that this Government’s awful Brexit deal has led to the cost of its goods going up by a fifth—up 12% on glass and up 7% on cardboard—and increased shipping costs and delays. Extra paperwork alone is costing it 33p per case. It tells me that a deal with Australia will not even scratch the sides of its substantial losses from Brexit, so what additional support and compensation will the Government pay to distilleries such as Speyside for these losses?

I am delighted to hear the Scottish National party raise the subject of whisky, because it did not do so in the urgent question two weeks ago on the Australia trade deal. I remind SNP Members that Scotch whisky currently faces tariffs going into Australia; it is one of Scotch whisky’s most important markets and is a growing market even during the pandemic. In terms of trade volumes with the European Union, we are continuing to see a recovery in the data. This is of course volatile data, but none the less there was a 46% increase in exports to the EU in February and a further 9% increase in March. Further data will be coming out in due course.

As ever, when presented with the realities the Minister just spins into Brexit fantasy. They just do not care about Scottish businesses. There is a good reason why the SNP has never supported Westminster’s trade policy, and that is because Scotland’s needs are always ignored. The UK Government said fishing was expendable during the EU negotiations in the ’70s, their Brexit obsession dragged us out of the world’s largest single market, and now they are betraying our farmers and crofters all while capitulating on standards in animal welfare. They do not listen to Scotland and they do not care about Scotland, but is the Minister aware that they are being found out in Scotland?

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has been listening carefully enough to what I have been saying to him about the SNP and trade deals. It is not just Westminster trade deals that he and his colleagues have rejected; they have even rejected the trade deals negotiated previously by the European Union. He has pledged to rejoin the EU, in which case Scotland would become immediately subject to those trade deals. He also wishes to rejoin the common fisheries policy, which would be completely against the interest of fishers right across Scotland.

The SNP has never supported any trade deal. It has been against the Canada and South Africa deals, and it has not supported the Japan or Singapore deals. It is simply anti-business, anti-trade and against the interests of the Scotch whisky industry and of Scottish fishers.