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Topical Questions

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

Last week my Board of Trade published our “Digital Trade” report, which demonstrates how we can boost exports, turbocharge economic growth for the whole UK and create high-paying jobs across all four of our family of nations using digital tools. Because geography is now history, digital tools ensure that services can be delivered from anywhere.

We export more than £200 billion of digitally delivered services. With investment and the right planning, I want to make sure the UK improves on its already pretty impressive second place in global digital trade to get to the top of that chart. I have negotiated a world-first set of digital trade principles with our G7 partners and will be continuing to deliver these through our trade deals in the months ahead.

Boneham & Turner in Ashfield has been around for more than 100 years and, post Brexit, it is thriving, like many other businesses in Ashfield. Its boss, Charlie Boneham, tells me that the US is a big part of its business. Will my right hon. Friend please advise me on where we are with a possible trade deal with the US?

The US is currently reviewing progress on all the free trade agreement negotiations under the previous Administration. We welcome the opportunity to feed into that review. We have always been clear that a good deal is better than a quick deal, and we are here when the US is ready to continue those discussions.

A deal with the US will benefit not just manufacturers like Boneham & Turner in my hon. Friend’s constituency but the other 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises that also export goods to the US by removing tariffs, simplifying customs procedures and therefore making it easier to export. We already have £200 billion of bilateral trade with the US, and we continue to encourage those businesses that want to do more to come to the export support service, which the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), discussed earlier, to ensure they have all the tools they need to maximise their trade with the USA.

The emergence of the omicron variant surely underlines that, if we are to protect our citizens from covid, we need to help to accelerate vaccination programmes in developing countries. With Norway the latest country to agree that, in these exceptional circumstances, a temporary waiver on patent rules to help boost vaccine production is needed, why is the Secretary of State so intent on blocking any progress on such a deal?

We have been world leading throughout the pandemic in our negotiations with AstraZeneca on ensuring that vaccines are produced at cost. When I was Secretary of State for International Development, I made sure we invested in COVAX so that we led the way and brought other countries forward to ensure that as much vaccine as can be made gets to those who need it the most. Countries are continuing to work with the smallest and most vulnerable developing countries so they get the vaccines they need. We continue to have discussions on a waiver to the World Trade Organisation agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, although those discussions were postponed this week due to the complexity of omicron and movement. We will pick up those discussions in the new year.

T2. Earlier this year, in partnership with Google, I arranged a digital course to train and upskill service sector businesses across Rother Valley. Will my right hon. Friend set out how our trade deals, including the recently announced New Zealand trade deal, support the service sector, 70% of which is based outside London and some of which is based in Rother Valley? (904506)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to improve digital skills in his constituency. In 2019, 40% of service exports to New Zealand were delivered digitally. Under the New Zealand deal, service exporters, particularly those in his constituency and region, will benefit from more opportunities to deliver services through digital trade. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in her topical statement, referred to the Department’s focus on digital trade, which is vital for the future.

T3. National Farmers Union Scotland says the Australian trade deal is“a slow journey to the Australians getting unfettered access to UK markets and with no guarantees that the promises of other safeguards will address the fact that very different production systems are permitted in Australia”.When was the last time the Department involved officials from the Scottish Government and Scottish farming representatives in the negotiation of future free trade deals? (904507)

We engage with officials from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Government all the time, and we look forward to continuing that.

T4. I was recently fortunate enough to visit the DP World London Gateway container port in my constituency to hear about its exciting plans—its commitment to the construction of a fourth berth, and its ambition to become the largest container port in the UK and to use the opportunities that freeport status brings. Will the Minister update the House on what the Department is doing to support freeports and promote UK exporters? (904510)

Freeports will be national hubs for trade and investment. They will regenerate communities, attract new businesses, and create jobs and opportunities across our country. As they move towards implementation, my Department is working closely with each freeport, including London Gateway, to help pull new investment in and to support exporters to seize the advantages that freeports will bring them.

T5. Last weekend, we saw the release of the Xinjiang papers, highlighting how human rights atrocities go right to the heart of the Chinese Government. As a result, I want to ask what steps is the Minister taking to review our trading relationship with China, because it cannot be business as usual? (904511)

China remains, of course, an important trading partner for Britain, but we have no plans to negotiate a trade deal with China. We will build trade only where it supports British businesses and jobs. We will seek to reduce barriers to accessing the Chinese market, but I can assure the hon. Lady that our approach to China will always be rooted in British values and British interests. We want a positive and constructive relationship with China, but I can assure her that we will not sacrifice our values in doing this.

T6. With the exponential growth in offshore wind, including off the East Anglian coast, where 50% of the UK’s wind farms are located, world-class knowledge and skills have developed and the UK is now a global leader. Will my right hon. Friend outline the steps that are taken in negotiating trade deals to both promote this expertise abroad and attract inward investment into the UK offshore wind sector? (904512)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that trade in itself is a force for good in the world, as well as having environmental chapters in trade deals. One example of that is our free trade agreement with New Zealand, which will include the most comprehensive environmental list of goods with liberalised tariffs in a free trade agreement to date. He is right to point to the technology being developed in the UK, which can provide solutions for nations around the world, whether they are developed or developing nations, to meet net zero.

The Secretary of State has a long history of being a supporter of the creative industries and I know that, like me, she will be concerned about the possibility of Channel 4 being lost to Leeds if it is taken over by a global player and taken away—I hope she is concerned about that. We have the BBC in Salford and Channel 4 in Leeds, so does she agree that levelling up would be deeply damaged if we were to lose Channel 4 from Leeds?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. The points he makes are well understood. We often talk about the BBC and soft power, influence and all it brings, but Channel 4 has also done some incredible things, particularly in the disability space, during the Paralympic games in 2012 and since. His points have been well made. This is a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but I am sure those in that Department will have heard him.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what steps are being taken to establish a free trade agreement with our historical ally Pakistan, and specifically to encourage trade between our country and the Kashmir region?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his consistent interest in this area, and I value the conversations we have had on this matter. In the four quarters to Q2 this year, we have had £2.6 billion-worth of trade with Pakistan, and I am pleased to confirm to him that we already offer Pakistan the enhanced framework in the generalised scheme of preferences, which ensures that it has more generous access to the British market than others do today. He will also know, and the House will want to be aware, that between July and September this year we ran a consultation on our proposed new developing countries trading scheme. This is a statement of our intent: the British Government want to take a more ambitious, more generous, more pro-growth approach to trading with developing nations. Our new scheme will mean more opportunities and less bureaucracy—

I thank the Secretary of State for the support that she has given in the past to the development of tidal stream renewable energy generation. Now that we have the very welcome ring-fenced pot for tidal stream energy, will she charge her Department with the development of a strategy to ensure that we can export that expertise as we move towards commercialisation?

The right hon. Gentleman will be as pleased as I am to see that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury were able to find a way to make sure that the contract for difference, now published, will be able to provide that ring-fenced support for tidal stream. As he knows, I visited earlier in the year to see the work for myself and to talk to those who have been developing this technology. As part of the work that the Department for International Trade will be doing on green trade across the world, we want to ensure that, as that potentially becomes commercially viable, such firms are absolutely at the forefront of the package of tools that other countries will also be able to use to help them to decarbonise their energy sectors. We will work very closely with those firms. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, who is overseeing the export service, will make sure that they are included and supported as they think about where those markets might be.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on trade discussions with India? She will know that any reduction in the punitive tariffs that apply to Scotch whisky would be an enormous boost for the industry.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his endeavours in making sure that Scotch whisky can be enjoyed by more people more reasonably all around the world. Britain wants a deal that slashes barriers to doing business and trading with India’s £2 trillion economy and its 1.4 billion-strong population, and Scotch whisky is at the top of our agenda.

I could never have thought that I was about to be called, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In a few weeks’ time, the United Kingdom will start to apply import controls to goods coming from the European Union. Last year, when the European Union started to apply its controls, a large number of small and medium-sized exporters, particularly in the Scottish food and drink industry, felt that they were simply left to sink or swim. What assurances can the Government give that small import businesses in Scotland will not be hung out to dry next year in the way that small exporters in Scotland were left hung out to dry last year?

I encourage the hon. Gentleman, if he has not already done so, to put businesses in his constituency in touch with our Department. The export support service runs alongside the trader support service—indeed they are joined up organisations—and we are there to provide bespoke support to businesses, to help them work through some of the challenges with new paperwork and so forth, and to give them the information they need to make business planning decisions. I encourage him to put those businesses in touch with us directly, and we will support them.

Alongside Blackpool tower and the pleasure beach, Blackpool rock is just one of the things that makes my constituency world famous. Exports of our most famous edible product, produced locally, are growing year on year. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can boost these exports around the world?

I am more than happy to ensure that my hon. Friend is put in contact with our export support scheme, our international trade advisers, our export champions, and our Export Academy to ensure that the world-famous rock continues to be sold across the world.

Let us try again, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Exports from Ireland to GB soared in the first six months of 2021 after Brexit, as imports sent in the opposite direction declined. I wonder whether the Minister can come to the Dispatch Box and advise the House on this matter. With a post-Brexit imbalance in trade, with Irish imports up 20% in the first six months of 2021 and GB exports to Ireland down by more than £2.5 billion, do they not recognise that, for GB—not Northern Ireland—Brexit is a trade disaster?

From figures that I mentioned earlier, the hon. Member will know that the situation is improving for Scottish businesses. He will also know that the bulk of the disruption and slowdown has been because of the pandemic. We are now coming out of that, and we would love to have a constructive dialogue with his party and its Members of Parliament to ensure that businesses in their constituencies are getting the right support to seize the opportunities that are now opening up. If we provide the right support for businesses, this should be an exciting time when they will be able to thrive. I encourage the Scottish National party to come to terms with the fact that we have left the EU, and that we are determined to make a success of this and to plug the economy of every part of the UK back into the global economy. The sooner that SNP Members come to terms with that and start pulling in the right direction, the better off their constituents will be.

Big landmark trade agreements such as those with Japan, New Zealand and Australia make the headlines, but the excellent work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing to remove trade barriers around the world also creates big new opportunities for businesses in my constituency of Dudley South. What progress is being made on the work to remove the trade barriers that restrict the flow of British goods and services?

Every year, we break down barriers across the world, and this year there has been a 20% increase in the number of barriers that we have broken down, benefiting businesses across the whole of our United Kingdom—in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We look forward to continuing this work to generate more jobs for people across our country in the years ahead.

COP26 was an important step towards meeting our international climate commitments, but that must be carried through into all aspects of Government policy. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the environmental impact of trade, through both imports and exports, is mitigated as far as possible?

UK leadership through COP26 has been world respected and renowned. The Department for International Trade is now able to continue the extraordinary leadership shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) as COP26 President to ensure that the technologies that the UK is developing, has developed and will continue to develop will be at the forefront of all matters environmental in order to help every part of the world meet its decarbonisation challenge.

What discussions have taken place with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office to place Afghan refugees in work in places such as Mash Direct and Willowbrook Foods in my constituency of Strangford, and across the agrifood sector in Northern Ireland, which is in need of migrant workers to fill the vacancies that presently exist?

I would be happy to get those Departments to give the hon. Gentleman some further details. Every Department across Government, including the Department for Education, is focused on ensuring that people who are coming here to restart their lives in safety are given every opportunity, and that their skills can be utilised. We are also thinking about how we can help those who are still left in country. I undertake that the FCDO will write to the hon. Gentleman.

As the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Fairtrade, I have been heartened by how many British people have been looking to support Fairtrade products, including bananas, coffee and chocolate, and to support Fairtrade producers and farmers around the world. Will the Minister continue to put fair trade at the heart of new trade deals so that we can continue to support these Fairtrade producers and farmers around the world?

As the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), mentioned earlier, now that we are a sovereign independent nation and can make trade deals in our own right, we want to ensure that we use trade for good and that the UK brings that leadership. Next year, we will be working closely with our African colleagues in particular to think about how we can boost trading relations and the support that we can provide to encourage the value chain to sit with those developing countries, which have the opportunity to grow their trade balance and ensure that they see the benefits of trade too.

I wonder what the Minister makes of the report in the Financial Times that far less than a trade deal, America will lift its steel tariffs if the UK violates article 16. Does she welcome America keeping control?

That story might be true in terms of how some people in the United States feel, but it is a false narrative. These are two entirely separate issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be discussing the issue of steel and other matters next week with her opposite numbers in the United States, but we not do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives. They are entirely separate issues. I again encourage the hon. Gentleman and his party to start talking about what the UK has done to protect peace on the island of Ireland, and our reasonable request to the EU. He might also like to talk to his American friends about what the EU has done to disrupt that, including triggering article 16 on the most sensitive of goods—vaccines. We have acted in good faith. We will do more to tell America that we have acted in good faith and are determined to be pragmatic, and Lord Frost is going to do that. The hon. Gentleman has to separate false narratives from how some in the US feel.