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UK-China Trading Relationship

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 10 June 2021

China is an important trading partner for the UK, with bilateral trade worth £78.8 billion in 2020. In fact, China was our third largest overall trading partner and seventh largest export market last year, with UK exports to China amounting to £22.9 billion. The UK also remains a leading destination for Chinese outbound investment in Europe.

Coda Octopus, a company based in my constituency, has been encouraged by successive Tory Governments to expand its sales to China. Its world-leading Echoscope is used in underwater port construction and in renewable energy projects, and it does not have a military use. Yet despite a 23-year track record of exports, it is now losing millions of pounds in orders due to a change in attitude on export licences, and responses from the Minister’s Department are taking over 100 days. Will the Minister meet me so that I can sort this situation out for my constituents?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her reasonable question. It is a delight to have an SNP Member in the Chamber actually championing business and looking to open up markets. We have one of the most rigorous and thorough export licensing regimes in the world, and we are proud of it. Every application is looked at on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated criteria. However, I will ensure that a meeting is set up for her with the appropriate Minister to discuss this.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.

Two weeks ago, we heard that Jimmy Lai, the owner of the largest pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, had not only been sentenced for a second time but has now had his assets frozen. This step makes it incredibly hard to continue to fund his journalistic enterprises, which in turn has a chilling implication for a free press in Hong Kong. Colleagues across this House have called on the Government to implement Magnitsky sanctions, but there is concern that the UK’s sluggishness to implement sanctions is because the Government seek a future trade deal with China. Can the Minister clarify: is the prospect of a future deal causing this Government to treat China with leniency it does not deserve?

It is one of the abiding characteristics of the left in general that if they cannot find a scare story they invent one. This Government are clear: we are not seeking a free trade agreement with China. We have led the world in challenging China where we have found it necessary to do so. Working with international partners, we seek to maximise impact on any actions China takes that run counter to its international treaty obligations, including detentions without trial, detention of human rights defenders, and persecution of some religious and ethnic minorities. We work with allies on the most effective means to challenge it. On 30 June, at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UK read out a formal statement on behalf of 28 countries highlighting concerns about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. I hope that the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members will never again suggest that we would do anything to put trade ahead of our responsibilities on human rights.