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International Trade Policy

Volume 698: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2021

What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Welsh Government and (b) other devolved Administrations on the UK Government’s international trade policy. (901785)

May I align myself very much with your comments, Mr Speaker? I know the whole House will share the sentiments you expressed.

I have regular discussions with the Welsh Government and the First Minister on a wide range of subjects, including the UK Government’s international trade policy.

Does the Minister share my concern that the devolved Governments have had no democratic involvement or oversight in the negotiation and approval of the Australian trade deal, despite the disproportionate impact it will have on their areas? When does he think that this “Union of equals” will start working equally— or, like this Government’s post-Brexit promises to farmers, is this another empty set of words that will turn out to be all bull and no beef?

It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with his comments. We have engaged devolved Administrations and numerous other stakeholders during the whole course of the various free trade agreements that have been reached, in particular the Australia trade deal. It would be nice if we could reach some kind of consensus between us about the opportunities that these trade deals offer, not only for businesses in Wales but for businesses in Scotland.

We all support new export opportunities for Welsh businesses, but free trade deals must also be fair. There really is widespread concern that this proposed deal with Australia will disadvantage Welsh farmers, because they will be forced to compete against producers with lower animal welfare and environmental standards. So I ask the Secretary of State again: if he is unable or unwilling to protect our farmers, why will he not let Welsh Government Ministers take part fully in trade talks, so they can stand up for them instead?

The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Of course, we have involved numerous stakeholders in the preparation of these deals. That includes the Welsh Government and some very positive responses from farmers in Wales, who, by a majority, voted in favour of leaving the European Union in 2016. They accept, as I do, that there are numerous opportunities. We have built into this process some protections—a 15-year transition period—as well as taking note of the fact that the Australians themselves say they cannot even fulfil their existing markets, let alone start flooding ours.

It is not just selling out our farmers. Today, the Government are choosing to bury their head in the sand and pass up the last opportunity to renew vital steel safeguards. With our industry now dangerously exposed to cheap imports and the news that a deal is imminent that will grant exemption to EU exports going to the US, our steel exports are going to be desperately trying to compete. What will the Secretary of State now do to ensure that his Government negotiate a similar deal that will protect our steel exports and enable them to enter the US without tariffs? How soon can we have news on that?

The hon. Lady and colleagues across the House have been resolute champions of the steel industry in Wales. I hope the UK Government’s support of Celsa Steel in Cardiff during the pandemic is an indication that we, too, are prepared to put our money where our mouths are as far as supporting the industry, for all the reasons she has rightly highlighted. It would be rash of me to predict what the statement or announcement might be on this, other than to say that I expect it later today, so she, and colleagues across the House, should get clarity on this matter before close of play today.

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Speaker. There have been several instances in recent weeks where UK Government Ministers, including the Secretary of State for International Trade, have dismissed concerns from the agricultural community regarding food standards in this trade deal, especially Australia’s position on animal welfare. Can the Secretary of State explain to Welsh farmers how the UK Government will ensure fair competition and that imports from Australia will always match those expected of Welsh farmers?

The hon. Gentleman, like me, has significant agricultural interests in his constituency in west Wales. We have had local conversations as well as national ones to try to reassure farmers—I think successfully, in some respects—that the transition period and our commitments on animal welfare and environmental standards will not be compromised. I do not think there is anything I can say to him that suggests that that has changed in any respect, but I urge him—I know he will take this seriously—to look at the trade deal as a huge opportunity for food and drink producers in Wales. As we work to challenge some of the myths that have been written and spoken about the Australia deal, let us also use the platforms that we have to promote everything that is good about it and how it will provide access to new markets of the sort that we have not had before.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) said, this Government have until tonight to step in and temporarily retain crucial steel import safeguards to protect our steel industry from cheaper foreign imports. There is still no action from the Government. I hear what the Secretary of State says, but we will be waiting with keen interest. Is this what Ministers meant by promising to protect and champion our businesses post Brexit, and what exactly have Wales Office Ministers done to intervene and stop this?

I assure the hon. Lady that we have been in regular touch with our colleagues in Government on this, as well as with the industry itself, with whom, as the hon. Lady knows, we deal on a regular basis. I said earlier that our commitment to steel in Wales—as she knows, because we have talked about it so many times—is absolutely resolute, but I am afraid that she will have to wait until later this afternoon to have a statement or announcement of some sort, which I hope will clarify the situation.