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Trade Strategy: Climate Change

Volume 701: debated on Thursday 21 October 2021

The Department for International Trade is pursuing a range of objectives to put climate and environment at the centre of our departmental ambitions, and we are committed to maximising the economic value of the net zero transition. In addition, UK Export Finance recently published its climate change strategy, setting out its support for green exports and its commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Climate change continues to be the dominant issue that affects people and Governments all over the world, and COP26 needs to show that it has co-ordinated efforts with countries that can help. Would my right hon. Friend ever consider trade sanctions against countries that wilfully ignore their responsibilities, and would a carbon border adjustment be a mechanism she would consider?

As hosts of COP26 and the G7 this year we are determined to promote transformational actions to deliver on the Paris agreement. The UK is building international consensus for ambitious collective action on mitigating those emissions, and promoting policies such as carbon pricing to ensure that private sector incentives are aligned with our goals for an ambitious outcome at COP26. From a trade perspective, any policy option we pursue should be market oriented, World Trade Organisation compliant, evidence based, proportionate, and forward looking.

Topical Questions

Last week I attended the G20 trade and investment ministerial meeting, where I made the case for fair and open markets, ahead of the upcoming meeting of the World Trade Organisation. Tomorrow I will be hosting the G7 trade Ministers meeting, where I will make that case again. This week the UK hosted the first global investment summit, where £9.7 billion of investment was secured. Those deals will support green growth and create more than 30,000 jobs across the country. That will deliver for families, workers and businesses across Britain, and set the stage for greater co-operation between the UK Government and businesses around the world on global challenges such as digital trade and climate change. Last night we secured our agreement in principle with New Zealand for our free trade agreement. Trade is a vital part of our plan to level up our country, slashing costs and red tape for exporters, building new trade routes for our services companies, and refocusing Britain on the dynamic economies of Asia-Pacific. With COP26 fast approaching, I will continue to drive forward the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, using our global networks to drive up green business ambitions, and attracting investment to the UK’s green sectors.

Every mile that every product travels grows its carbon footprint, and the Secretary of State has not denied her Department’s leaked document that states that it prioritises economic growth over climate protection. How will she make representation at COP26 when we hear that we are way off our 1.5 °C target, and place the climate emergency—and it is an emergency—at the top of her priorities, as opposed to being something she does not really believe in?

As I said earlier, economic growth and tackling the challenge of climate change go hand in hand. Finding solutions to those polluting methods of travel is a key area where the UK is leading with innovative businesses, and coming up with solutions regarding aviation fuel, or looking at clean shipping. We have brought international aviation and shipping challenges into carbon budget 6, and we are leading the way in ensuring that, economically as well as being part of the planet’s requirements, we find solutions that mean we can continue to trade, ensuing that those journeys involve clean energy users.

T2. I have a number of livestock, cattle and sheep farmers in my beautiful Hastings and Rye constituency in East Sussex, of which I am very proud. On global export opportunities for my farmers, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to differentiate UK lamb or beef from that from other parts of the world, for example by establishing a UK brand? Is she developing an export strategy specifically for that purpose? (903637)

Our fantastic beef and lamb are world renowned for high welfare and environmental standards, and indeed for excellent flavour. The cross-Government GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign gives global brand recognition to the UK’s offer, including our world-class food and drink, which we are proud to promote around the world. Our agricultural food and drink Open Doors campaign, launched earlier this year, is helping UK agribusinesses seize the opportunities presented by our new trade agreements.

T3. I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and the two new Ministers to the team. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment yesterday to bringing forward the long-overdue online harms Bill. The Secretary of State will know that I have spent many years campaigning on that Bill and trying to ensure that it is brought forward in better time. I know that Ministers will agree that there can be no loopholes in our trade agreements when it comes to the liability of online service providers. Have Ministers commissioned legal advice on the compatibility of the draft online safety legislation with chapter 14 of the provisions of the trans-Pacific partnership in relation to electronic commerce? We really cannot allow platforms to get away from culpability for not tackling the abuses that everyone receives through their platforms. (903638)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done in this area. Clearly, in addition to being compatible with UK law, we have an ambition that the UK will be the safest place in the world to do business. In addition to the legal advice that we commission, we are consulting widely with stakeholders in this sector and in other sectors that are emerging markets. We want to ensure that we are able to expand digital services but also to support the values that need to underpin that sector if it is going to thrive and be successful.

T5. One of the UK’s greatest exports is Stoke-on-Trent’s world-leading ceramics, which I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has heard much about from her newly appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). Ceramics manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are delighted that our new free trade agreement with Australia will bring opportunities to export more of our outstanding products. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a fantastic boost for this iconic British industry and the world capital of ceramics, Stoke-on-Trent? (903640)

I thank my hon. Friend for being such a champion for his constituency and for this sector in particular. He is right that these deals will make it less costly and much easier to sell those iconic products. I know that he will be encouraging pottery firms in his constituency to ship to Australia and New Zealand, benefiting from the removal of the 5% tariff.

T4.   During recess, I visited a constituent on his farm. We discussed how farmers want a level playing field when it comes to trade, and their concerns about the Government’s trade agreements undercutting UK food standards. Will the proposed deal with Australia reduce tariffs on meat produced using growth-promoting antibiotics, which UK farmers are banned from using? If so, how is it consistent with the repeated promises made to our farmers that they would not be undermined by food produced to lower standards than they are required to meet? (903639)

We have been crystal clear on this. We will not compromise our high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards. That is non-negotiable.

T6. The port of Southampton is one of the busiest container ports in the UK. Between 80% and 90% of containers arriving at the port are from the far east. Now that we are free to negotiate and sign our own trade deals, will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress she has made on securing deals with countries in the far east and how that will help to ensure that the port of Southampton thrives into the future? (903641)

The agreement in principle that we have just secured with New Zealand, in addition to being good in itself, helps pave the way towards the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which will be hugely beneficial to my hon. Friend’s constituency. I thank him for the work that he has been doing in championing the Solent freeport, which will benefit Southampton but also another port just slightly further along the coast in which I have more than a passing interest.

T8. The former Secretary of State allowed the steel sector an additional year to appeal against the Trade Remedies Authority’s wrong-headed recommendations to remove safeguards. Do current Ministers share the sector’s concerns that without an extension of the safeguards, we risk becoming a magnet for imported steel, putting at risk thousands of high-paid, high-skilled jobs and millions of pounds of economic value? (903644)

We took a very careful and measured approach to this difficult issue. We are determined to back the steel sector, but we will do so in a WTO-compliant way. The Trade Remedies Authority is working very hard on this issue.

T7. With almost all my immediate family living in New Zealand and as a regular visitor there in more normal times, may I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the work she has done to secure the free trade agreement, and provide my assurance that there is a market there for British businesses that is very keen to grow? How, during the course of the development of free trade agreements, do she and her Department engage with the Crown dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, which are also very keen to benefit from the advantages of our new-found freedoms now we are no longer in the EU? (903642)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all that he says. He is right that we should be ambitious not only for the United Kingdom herself, but for the Crown dependencies. The Crown dependencies are an important part of our family and the Department for International Trade has developed a very strong working relationship with both officials and Ministers from their Governments. They are consulted prior to the launching of FTAs and consistently engage with us as the agreements progress towards signature and implementation.

T9. Ministers have repeatedly told this House that trade does not need to come at the expense of human rights, yet in Colombia this year alone 43 people were killed by police during protests in April and May. More than 100 social leaders have been murdered and former FARC combatants continue to be targeted at an appalling rate. Does the Secretary of State not agree that those are grounds to follow recent calls from Colombian trade unions and the TUC to suspend Colombia’s membership of the UK-Andean trade agreement by invoking its human rights clause? (903645)

We will always look very closely at any abuses of rights and responsibilities around the world. The agreement the hon. Lady refers to is based on an EU agreement, which provided us and businesses across the country with continuity. It is important that we ensure we balance the objectives across our trade agreements to deliver benefits for British businesses. I know that British businesses across the north-east value greatly that agreement.

What progress has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the team made on increasing trade with Israel, our good friend and partner, particularly in the pharmaceutical and high-tech industries?

Trade with Israel is going from strength to strength. My hon. Friend is right to raise the opportunities in tech in particular for the future. We are probing and scoping for better and deeper trade relations, including a future revised trade agreement that will allow us to do much more in the years ahead.

Because of poorly negotiated ideology-driven free trade deals, farmers will have no choice, if their businesses are to survive, but to resort to more intensive, less climate-friendly farming to compete with cheaper imports from such places as Australia—pretty shameful in the year that the UK hosts COP. Has the Department for International Trade, alongside colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, analysed how this shift will impact on local pollution levels and our wider greenhouse gas footprint?

I am sorry to hear that very pessimistic question. I do not think our farmers in the UK are going to do that at all. I think they care deeply about animal welfare and I think they care deeply about the environment. I look forward to the press release from the Scottish Government championing the benefits to Scottish businesses that come from the New Zealand trade deal that we talked through with them yesterday. They are considerable and they ought to start talking up their businesses, their farmers and their food and drink sector, rather than doing it down.

May I first welcome the new ministerial team and of course the new parliamentary private secretaries, who I am sure will do as good a job as the previous ones? [Laughter.] I welcome the announcement today of an agreement in principle on the free trade deal with New Zealand. Can my right hon. Friend please confirm that the new free trade deals, such as the one that has been agreed today, are good for consumers and also open up export markets for our farmers?

I thank my hon. Friend for his efforts when he was a PPS, sitting behind the previous team, and I know that he will continue to champion all that is good and exciting and the future benefit for our businesses as we look forward to future trade deals. The opportunities to slash tariffs, create new markets and build preferential relationships with our friends and allies through new trade deals will continue to be something that we see our businesses champion and come to talk to us about. I challenge all colleagues to share with us, as the team, the areas of interest for their businesses and constituencies, so that we know that we are pushing in all those areas— many of which we have discussed today—that are important to our great UK businesses.

Sir David Amess was due to ask a question today and I suspect that, as chair of the all-party British-Maldives parliamentary group, he would have reiterated previous questions about support for the very sustainable fishing industry there. As part of the all-party group on small island developing states, which includes the Maldives, I therefore feel honour-bound to pursue that cause on his behalf. Why are we requiring 20% import tariffs on tuna from the Maldives? It is a highly sustainable sector and other SIDS do not have the same tariffs. What progress is being made on negotiating an economic partnership agreement or finding some other way to remove this unfair barrier?

The hon. Lady rightly refers to our late colleague, Sir David Amess, and his brilliance in championing the issues of people not only across our country, but across the world. His representations on behalf of the Maldives remain firmly lodged in my mind. Along with the Secretary of State, I will certainly continue to be committed to working with our friends and allies across the Commonwealth, including in the Maldives. The Maldives does not benefit from an agreement because the EU had not secured an agreement with the Maldives. I am looking very closely at what we can do now that we have taken back control of our trade policy—[Interruption.] Although Opposition Members do not wish to listen to my answer, I refer to my answer from the last International Trade questions, when I said that we would look very closely at what we could do in that regard.

With nearly 70 free trade deals now signed and the fact that the British people voted to leave political union with the European Union, does the Secretary of State agree that Opposition Members would have kept us in the single market and in the customs union, and we would not have been able to negotiate the free trade deals that we now have around the country, including the one announced with New Zealand? This now puts us in pole position to be the global leader that we are.

As we have heard, human rights are too often forgotten in our trade deals. I believe that the Foreign Secretary is now courting Saudi Arabia even more, to name just one of the countries that has a dubious record. When will the Government start getting serious about human rights and make it clear to countries around the world that until they get their human rights records sorted out, they are not going to get trade deals with the UK?

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to value trade around the world as a force for good. By having strong economic relationships, we can have honest and open conversations with trading partners, and we will continue to do so. In the Gulf, we have the opportunity to trade with a market of 50 million people, 30 million of whom, I believe, are in Saudi Arabia. The opportunities for trade are great and we will not let that sentiment from the Labour party get in the way of more trade for the benefit of our people. At the same time, if he had listened to the Secretary of State earlier, he would have heard that more trade will never come at the expense of our values.

The UK is already one of the most attractive investment destinations in the world and this investment is vital to levelling up the country, particularly investment in new technologies and green innovation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she is working to encourage this type of investment to help us to progress to net zero emissions and deliver on the Prime Minister’s excellent 10-point plan?

Absolutely. The Global Investment Summit, which we hosted earlier this week in London, saw 200 of the world’s most important investors coming to London to hear how they could be part of the UK’s world leadership in green technologies; £6 billion of investment was committed to offshore wind and millions to many, many different new technologies. We had the opportunity to showcase many of the UK’s leading future solutions to our green challenge and we look forward to continuing to increase that inward investment to help us to deliver them.

Will the Department agree to consider evidence gathered by the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into carbon border taxes or, better still, initiate an inquiry of its own?

This is an important area of policy. I would be very happy to sit down and discuss the Committee’s findings. It will continue to be a key area post COP26 as through the UNFCCC system we try to find something that can work across the planet, to make sure that we can be as effective as possible in using carbon pricing to help drive the green solutions that we all need.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the news that she has begun discussions on a new export and investment partnership between the UK and Italy. Does she agree that enhancing our bilateral relationship with Italy will boost export opportunities and investment promotion for our businesses?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting an important G20 discussion that I had last week with the Italian Trade Minister. We launched a UK-Italy dialogue, which will be an opportunity to continue to grow the already substantial £14 billion in exports that we have with Italy and the £30 billion in overall bilateral trade so that we can build those relationships with one of our close European allies. We look to do more in bilateral relationships with many of our European neighbours.