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Trade with EU: SMEs

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 3 March 2022

To support businesses exporting to the EU, the Department launched the Export Support Service in October 2021. The ESS provides businesses with access to answers about exporting their products or services to Europe, routes to other Government services and access to other forms of export support, such as the export academy. Monthly goods exports to the EU for December 2021 are nearly 21% higher than the 2020 monthly average, higher than the 2019 monthly average and higher than the 2018 average.

My constituent George Chattey runs a company called LuvJus drinks. He imports his drinks, which are manufactured in Austria. He recently had a consignment stuck in a warehouse for more than two and a half months because he could not get the right advice, either when he placed the order and arranged for the export, or when the drinks were in the warehouse and needing release. Can the Minister tell me what he is doing, or what the Department is doing, to improve the quality and availability of advice to importers, both at the point where they are arranging their imports and when such problems occur? We cannot have perishable goods sat in warehouses for that length of time, and my constituent had an enormous amount of trouble getting the right advice from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and other bodies.

Actually, no, I cannot tell the hon. Lady, because I am the Minister for exports, not the Minister for imports. What I can do is ensure that the relevant Minister comes back to the hon. Lady with a substantive answer if she wishes to write to me with the details.

In my constituency, businesses keep contacting me to share details of the detrimental effects that Brexit has had on their business, such as countless zero-sales days, which they had not experienced before. I am not making that up. Will the Government listen to small businesses, stop their Brexit ideological blind spot about this and, for example, reopen the SME Brexit support fund, with a simplified application process and an expanded remit?

I am not sure I am the one with the Brexit blind spot, but I have to say that the Government are working very hard with our trade industry groups and our representative bodies. I frequently meet those groups, ranging from the Federation of Small Businesses all the way up to the CBI. Officials, both here in London and in post, will work with specific Governments to eradicate any issues inter-country, where there is perhaps an overzealous interpretation of the rules. More deep-seated problems will be dealt with on a Government-to-Government level. If the hon. Lady has details of specific businesses and specific issues that she would care to share, I would be more than happy to ensure that the Export Support Service gets back to her or to her constituents who wish to export.

UK aid promoted trade in Africa by making borders seamless through digitising all the administrative processes. Is that on our agenda for trade with the EU at all? It is monstrous that we are filling in forms.

I understand from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy that we aim to have the best border in place by 2025.

Does the Minister accept that the EU is not the whole of Europe, and that a wider Europe is out there open for SMEs? Will he say what he is doing to encourage trade with that wider Europe?

My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a global market, not just the EU, and the wider European market. The export strategy “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” is there to assist. Specifically on support, we have the ESS, the export academy, the export champions, a network of trade advisers both here and overseas, agrifood and drink attachés, the tradeshow programme and UK Export Finance. If any hon. Member wishes to find out more about the specific support we provide, they are welcome to attend the parliamentary export showcase on 9 March in Portcullis House.

I am sure you would agree, Mr Speaker, that it is hard to concentrate on trade this morning, given the unfolding tragedy we see in Ukraine. But getting down to the earth of trade, may I say that Huddersfield is the beating heart of manufacturing and we also have lots of farmers in our beautiful countryside in my constituency? How have this Government got it so wrong that my farmers are unhappy and my SMEs are unhappy, because exporting, which they are so good at, is so darn difficult now and they do not seem to be getting any direction or support from this Government?

All I can suggest is that the hon. Gentleman gets his exporters to talk to me and not to him, because we will provide them with an optimistic and enthusiastic support service. He should come along on 9 March to the export showcase and find out the specifics of the practical support that we will give to his constituents.

Recent research from the British Chambers of Commerce shows that over two thirds of SMEs that export say that the EU trade deal is not enabling them to grow or increase sales. Rather than just saying that he is waiting for answers from the EU, as he did at the last International Trade questions, will the Minister tell us precisely what proposals he has made to the EU, and when, to reduce the additional cost of paperwork associated with export health certificates and to eliminate the problem of companies being asked to register for VAT in multiple EU states?

I will take that question away to my colleagues in both the Treasury and the Foreign Office, and get her a detailed answer.