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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 709: debated on Thursday 3 March 2022

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Export Licence Applications

The Export Control Joint Unit has statutory responsibility for the licensing of controlled exports. In 2020, it administered more than 16,000 licences. The ECJU provides guidance and training on the application process. Work is presently under way to modernise the application process and the technology that supports it, to make it more efficient and more transparent.

Trying to export goods is currently a slow and inefficient process. One toy business in Chesham and Amersham told me that it now spends significantly more time on the paperwork than it ever did before. A recent survey of businesses in Buckinghamshire showed that 58% have experienced a rise in cost due to an increase in the same red tape. What proactive, practical steps are the Government taking to help businesses of all sizes to export their goods to the rest of the world?

In 2020, the ECJU administered nearly 16,000 standard individual export licences. It completed 62% within 20 working days, against a target of 70%, and 85% within 60 working days, against a target of 99%. That is why we have brought in work to modernise and streamline the application process so that it will be more efficient and—further to the hon. Lady’s point—will allow businesses to know that they can use the system as effectively and with as little red tape as possible.

Global Trade Barriers

We are negotiating and implementing free trade agreements and removing barriers that British businesses face across the globe. Last financial year, we resolved more than 200 barriers across 74 countries, an increase of 20% on the previous year. We have so far secured FTAs with 70 countries plus the EU, covering nearly £800 billion-worth of bilateral trade in 2020, delivering benefits for communities across the country.

British produce and food and drink are some of the best in the world, especially when they are made in the north-west of England. What steps are the Government taking to reduce market access barriers for businesses in Warrington South and the north-west? What have they done in the past year to help British exporters?

The Department is working hard to reduce barriers to trade, including for my hon. Friend’s constituents in Warrington South. For example, I can tell him that we have successfully secured access for British wheat to Mexico, poultry to Japan and lamb to the USA, just to name a few of the barriers that have been removed, boosting food and agriculture among many other products across the globe.

Survey after survey of business owners report unnecessary hassle and difficulty in exporting to European markets, with extra red tape, checks and delays too often the norm. As no one in the Government is getting a grip on this, why does the Secretary of State not get herself down to Dover to understand directly what needs doing to ease the very real difficulties that British businesses face?

If we could export broken records, I think the hon. Gentleman would be a winner, but I have to say that his description is far from the truth. What are the Government and the Department doing? We have the export support service, the Export Academy, export champions, international trade advisers in the UK and overseas, agri-commissioners, hundreds of staff focusing on specific sectors, the tradeshow programme, UK Export Finance and trade envoys. The key issue is that in-country, where we find specific issues, we liaise country to country to resolve them. It is simply not true that the Government are doing nothing. In fact, we are seeing exports starting to recover and appetite for British goods and services going up ever more.

The Minister is reeling off figures, but he might want to consider this one: 4,300 fewer businesses in the UK are exporting goods and services than in 2018, according to the Government’s own annual stocktake. Why are this Government so anti-trade?

The information is that exports to the EU are now up. Also, the export support service is now proactively contacting those customers who have stopped exporting, because there can be a variety of reasons why people drop off the radar for exporting. Just seeing the glass half empty is not boosting trade in the United Kingdom. We are proactively contacting those companies to get them back on the pitch and back exporting, and talking up the United Kingdom.

They are great at talking the talk but not at walking the walk. The European Union will remain Scotland and the UK’s largest export market for some time to come, yet this Government have done nothing to remove or even ease non-tariff barriers, bureaucracy or Brexit red tape, and they have not done anything about the labour shortages that are hampering exporters. They have spent the past year decimating the fishing industry and its livelihoods. This year, why are they going after farmers, with the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, already roundly condemned by the farming industry, set to result in floods of cheap, lower-quality meat and dairy products being exported into the UK from around the globe?

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that it is a good job that I am leading on exports, not him, because all he ever sees is problems. We are doing stuff. We are doing exports. It is simply not true that the Government are doing nothing. I have been out in the markets. I am not sure whether the Scottish lead on exports has done many overseas visits. I am happy to work with the Scottish National party if it would actually come out and do something. We are removing trade barriers. We have already sent poultry to Japan and lamb to the USA. We are working with the Gulf states, increasing halal sales and sales of Welsh lamb. It is simply not true that this country will be flooded with cheap imports. That is pure scaremongering.

Steel Exports

My Department recently published our refreshed export strategy, which has an action-led 12-point plan, and we have introduced a whole range of support measures, as the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) has just set out, to help exporters to thrive in the global market, including, of course, our high-quality steel, internationalising key trading sectors and raising the UK exporting culture across the UK for the long term.

We can learn from the United States, of course, where the Made in America Act 2021 and informal targets in Government contracts support US steelmakers. The UK Government have told me that the World Trade Organisation does not allow them to do that, but the US example shows that that is not true. Will the Secretary of State tell her colleagues across Government that we can help boost steel exports if the UK Government give a big vote of confidence to our steel industry and start to make, buy and sell more in Britain?

UK steel exports across the world are worth nearly £4 billion. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in very detailed talks to ensure that our UK to US steel exports get back on track and to clear out the issues caused by the section 232 tariffs over the past couple of years. We and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy continue to work with the steel industry to ensure that what is some of the world’s best steel, made across our UK steel yards, will continue to find new markets. We work not only with the US but with all our likeminded allies in the WTO against those market-distorting practices that some nations choose to use, which continue to degrade and devalue the high-quality steel made in the UK. We continue to work very closely with the industry but also with those across the world who want to make sure that the steel market works as it should.

Expanding on that question, could my right hon. Friend explain what progress she is making on resolving the section 232 tariff issues regarding exporting steel to the United States?

In 2018, the US imposed section 232 tariffs on global imports of steel and aluminium—a defensive reaction at the time to overcapacity in the global steel market and for its own national security purposes. I was able to get the negotiations back on track. My counterpart Secretary Raimondo and I started negotiations to resolve this issue in mid-January. The negotiations are proceeding at pace. Our officials are working flat out to clear through some of the issues, and we hope very much to be able to bring good announcements here in due course.

I thank the Secretary of State for her clear commitment to helping the steel sector. In 2021, the UK’s export levels of steel decreased by around £53 million of GDP compared with the previous year. What steps has the Secretary of State taken to ensure that there are no further decreases in 2022 and that small steel businesses, which I have in my constituency, and larger manufacturers are supported in this very uncertain period?

The hon. Gentleman is right. As post-covid markets and industrial sites pick up, the demand for steel across the world is growing at pace. We want to make sure that the high-quality steel that we make across the UK finds the right markets. On my travels in my role, I speak regularly to those across the world who are doing complex infrastructure work where our high-quality steel products will be an important part of their procurement programmes. We are making good progress. As I say, I work very closely with the BEIS Secretary to ensure that we give the steel industry all the support that it needs.

Trade: Australia and New Zealand

The free trade agreements that the Government signed with Australia in December and with New Zealand on Monday this week will end tariffs for British exporters and slash red tape, while making it easier for smaller businesses to break into these important markets. The deals with Australia and New Zealand are expected to increase bilateral trade by 53% and 59% respectively in the medium term. These FTAs are also expected to boost the UK economy by over £3 billion.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on signing the free trade agreement with New Zealand, which is another positive step in rebuilding the bonds and historic links we have with the Commonwealth nations, but does she agree that we must do all we can to maintain the benefits secured by this deal by ensuring that any changes to alcohol duty will deliver for UK consumers and that they do not see domestic taxes on wine go up as we finally, and rightly, remove the tariffs?

Our deal with New Zealand is indeed very good news for UK consumers, increasing choice and helping to lower prices on all New Zealand products that are going to come into the UK. The deal removes all tariffs, saving up to 20p a bottle on New Zealand wine. As my hon. Friend seems keen, he will be pleased to know that the products that British consumers love, such as Marlborough sauvignon blanc, will be more affordable. The question on domestic taxation continues to be one that the Treasury looks at and decides on the basis of the health of our citizens, and I shall continue to allow the Chancellor to make those decisions.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege to meet the president of the Farmers Union of Wales, who has expressed concerns about both trade deals, specifically in relation to tonnage of imported meat and whether it will be on the bone or filleted, as this will make a significant difference to the scale of flooding of the UK market. The president tells me that he has been unable to get an answer from the Department on what he deems to be a pretty simple question. I used to be a butcher, and I know that there is a significant difference between the weight of something boned and something deboned when anyone buys it in the shops. In all seriousness, could the Secretary of State clarify this here at the Dispatch Box, or get in touch with the Farmers Union of Wales to confirm this important point in terms of supporting our farming industry?

I have learned something new about the hon. Gentleman. I did not know that that was a former career of his, and I look forward to bringing him into future trade deals to discuss the minutiae of these details. I will ensure that my officials liaise with the Farmers Union of Wales in detail, so that it has absolute clarity on what is in that very large document—a treaty is not just a couple of bits of paper—and we will of course be publishing all the paperwork and the relevant support documents for Parliament and the wider community to have a closer inspection. I will make sure that my officials pick that matter up this week.

It is welcome to see the progress the Government are making with the digital partnership with Singapore, the Australia trade agreement, the New Zealand trade agreement and the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. This is not anti-trade but pro-trade—and free trade, for that matter. The Secretary of State has come before the International Trade Committee and told us that she would give us scrutiny. The Trade and Agriculture Commission was given eight days’ advance warning on the New Zealand deal, but the International Trade Committee was not. Can she tell us why the Committee was not given the scrutiny of the New Zealand deal that it should have had?

The Minister for Trade Policy answered a point of order yesterday setting out the detail of the communications. We always try to ensure that we are able to provide the information in as timely a manner as we can. I am looking forward to my opportunity to discuss the Australian and New Zealand trade deals in more detail with the International Trade Committee—I think it is already in the diary—and I know that it will hold me to account 100 % when I get there.

A £150 million hit to fishing, forestry, agriculture and food manufacturing from the New Zealand trade deal was described in this Government’s impact assessment as nothing more than a “process of economic adjustment” and just a

“reallocation of resources within the economy”.

This again exposes the Government’s shock-doctrine, libertarian approach to free trade and the economy. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether she is content for those sectors to just go down with the Brexit ship?

The New Zealand free trade agreement will see bilateral trade increase by almost 60%, which we expect to boost the UK economy by nearly £1 billion in the next few years and to increase wages across the UK. Red tape will be slashed for nearly 6,000 UK small and medium-sized enterprises, with nearly 250,000 people working in those supply chains. UK exporters will no longer pay tariffs on a huge range of foods, and they will now have an advantage over international rivals.

It is exciting that we will be able to offer new opportunities for our smaller businesses to discover and grow into the New Zealand market. Indeed, we will be working very closely with our New Zealand partners as we look to accede to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership later this year, which will open up enormous new markets for all our exporters across every field of opportunity.

Trade Deals: Farmers and Food Producers

Our aim is to support and promote farmers and producers, to create opportunities for them and to ensure they have the knowledge and support to capitalise on those new opportunities, to be a positive force for improving standards and to ensure that our producers do not face unfair competition.

Environmental regulations and restrictions, on pesticides for example, are there for good reason, but they cost our farmers money either in sourcing alternatives or in lower yields. The farmers I speak to are very concerned about the use of chemicals, such as Paraquat in Australia and neonicotinoids in large parts of the European Union, that they are not allowed to use here. Their costs are therefore higher. Will these matters be addressed in the trade deals so that we get a fair and level playing field?

There are many things we can do to drive international standards, to improve animal welfare and to encourage others not to use particular pesticides that affect insects we are keen to have around a bit more. There are many things we can do outside free trade agreements, and we have done them. As my hon. Friend knows, we have championed many of these issues.

I have a responsibility to understand the opportunities for our farmers not just in volume but in value, and to understand the additional costs they may face in producing very high-quality produce, which is obviously welcome. I have a deep and growing understanding of these matters, and I work closely with our colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We understand the detail, we are talking to agriculture commissioners and Ministers around the world, and we will arrive at the right place in all the trade deals, which are obviously bespoke to each nation.

In October 2020 the Department for International Trade said that, within five months, up to 77 extra British food and drink products would get protected status in Japan, thanks to the UK-Japan trade deal, highlighting Carmarthen ham, Shetland wool, Yorkshire rhubarb and Lakeland Herdwick lamb among the products that would benefit. Can the Minister confirm that, despite all the time that has passed, during which 56 new EU products have been recognised in Japan, fewer than half the UK products we were promised have even reached the consultation stage, including none of the specific products I mentioned?

I would be happy to update the hon. Gentleman with the specifics, but our analysis shows that the deal we have done with Japan will, in the long run, increase our trade but also improve our workers’ wages. These are good things. We obviously require other nations to put through legislation, to scrutinise and to get processes through their own Parliaments and committees, but that is what we will work towards. Those things will improve our economy and make a real difference to our workers and producers.

Trade with EU: SMEs

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.

Trade and Export Promotion

Perhaps I should just stand at the Dispatch Box full time. My Department has a strong package of support for British exporters, as I have reiterated several times already this morning, so that they can take advantage of the markets that we are opening through our free trade agreements. From encouraging businesses to export through the “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign to our world-leading UK export finance offer and our on-the-ground support in the UK and overseas, UK businesses are being supported at every stage in their export journey. I repeat that there is an offer to attend the export showcase on 9 March.

UK connectivity is concentrated in England, and particularly in the south-east of England. That presents a growing challenge to Scottish businesses, given the impact of carbon and haulage costs, and queuing at the port of Dover, particularly with perishable export goods. Does the Minister agree that reviewing the port infrastructure, and particularly the reintroduction of ferry links from Scotland to Europe, is of growing urgency, and will he meet me to discuss possible mechanisms to improve that situation?

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to look at the specifics, and where necessary to liaise with the Scottish Government on any specific Scottish matters.

The renewable energy sector has been one of the success stories in the UK in recent years, particularly in my constituency where there are many well-paid jobs. What are the Minister and his Department doing to ensure that we can export more from the renewable energy sector?

First, may I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys? The work that we are doing on green energy and renewables is at the heart of the export strategy. On any specific issues that my hon. Friend would like to take up to ensure that we can boost that world-beating sector, we would be more than happy to link up his constituents, or any companies that he wishes to put in contact with us, so that they can exploit the opportunities globally, where we are a world leader.

Promoting trade has to be done in the context of protecting British interests. The 2019 Conservative manifesto made a commitment to cover 80% of UK trade with free trade agreements. The unanswered concern of the Farmers Union of Wales about meat on or off the bone raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who is no longer in his place, shows just the level of scrutiny required to protect the interests of our farmers, as does the protection of our jobs, consumer standards and environmental and welfare commitments. Does the Secretary of State not worry that not only will she be responsible for a broken manifesto promise but, by taking on an “any deal will do” approach, she is undermining UK interests?

No, the whole ministerial team are absolutely confident that we will continue to deliver world-beating FTAs, and we liaise with all who have interests. The hon. Lady mentioned things such as agriculture and food, and we liaise with representative bodies such as the NFU to ensure that their concerns are fully represented in the FTAs. I am sure that she will join us in celebrating all the FTAs that are opening up new markets so that we can export the best of British products.

Trade Negotiations: Foie Gras and Fur Import Regulation

9. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the potential impact of the Government’s plans for regulation of foie gras and fur imports on trade negotiations. (905856)

The Government are committed to upholding the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards, as outlined in our manifesto. I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Government will update the House in due course on any future legislation.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. My constituents in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, and elsewhere, are very angry that the Government are considering dropping the proposed ban on foie gras and fur imports, when there are perfectly acceptable alternatives to both that do not involve cruelty to animals. Foie gras involves the force feeding of ducks and geese to fatten and enlarge their livers, and fur imports into the UK involve animals being kept in cages that are far too small. How can the Government continue to claim that the United Kingdom is a world leader on animal welfare?

We have agreed groundbreaking animal welfare provisions in our Australia and New Zealand trade deals, including stand-alone chapters reflecting the importance of animal welfare. As we do more trade deals in the months and years ahead, that will continue to be an incredibly important part of our focus. In relation to the specific issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised, DEFRA ran a call for evidence last year, from 31 May to 28 June, seeking public views on the fur market. A summary of responses to that call for evidence will be published soon.

Trade: Persian Gulf Countries

The Gulf is an important trading region for the United Kingdom, with an overall trade relationship worth £32.4 billion in 2020. The countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council are among our largest trade partners globally. Having just completed a public consultation, we aim to start negotiations on a free trade agreement with the GCC later in 2022. Work continues bilaterally with countries in the region. In fact, having just returned from a visit to the United Arab Emirates, I can tell my hon. Friend that I have seen at first hand that the opportunities for UK trade in the Gulf are enormous.

Can my hon. Friend the Minister set out some of the potential benefits for the UK, and especially for Rother Valley, of a trade deal with the Gulf Co-operation Council, particularly around jobs and investment?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Gulf represents a massive opportunity for many goods, from education and defence to vehicles, food and agriculture. It is an open market where people want to buy British, where we are a trusted partner and where we are regarded as a seller of high-quality goods. I can reassure him that in food and drink alone, the demand for top-quality British produce is already more than £600 million a year.

Exports: European Markets

As I told the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) earlier, my Department launched the Export Support Service in October 2021, as a free service to support exporters to Europe. That unified service is just one part of the package of measures—I have listed them a couple of times—that the Department provides to UK exporters.

Small businesses in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney continue to tell me the difficulties that they are having with exporting to the EU and the added bureaucracy, and I am really keen to hear from the Minister about further support. I heard what he said earlier, but I do not think the message is getting through. There is a lesson to be learned about communication and how to get that message to businesses, because they are clearly not aware of the level of support that is out there. Perhaps he could give some more detail about the support and grants that are available, and what more the Government will do.

I will not reiterate the full list of support that is available, but the hon. Gentleman is welcome to come to the export showcase next week to see all that in detail. If he would be interested in becoming a parliamentary export champion for his constituency, to make that line of communication much stronger and direct to him, I would be very happy to facilitate that appointment.

CPTPP Membership

12. What progress her Department has made on securing UK membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. (905862)

14. What progress her Department has made on securing UK membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. (905866)

On 18 February, Japan announced that the UK can move to market access negotiations, the next phase of the accession process. We aim to have concluded negotiations by the end of this year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her response. The CPTPP is a great opportunity to deal with a growing economy, a growing market, and a market that is precisely for the kind of high-quality food and drink products that are produced in Scotland, and in my constituency of Banff and Buchan. Contrary to some reports in recent weeks, will my right hon. Friend provide a firm commitment that in no future or current trade deal will we allow the import of hormone-injected beef or any other foodstuff that would be illegal to produce and sell in the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to flatten that myth. The UK’s import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and our trade deals do not and will not change that. I hope that he will call out people who are scaremongering about these deals, as the deals are good for our producers and good for driving global standards, and they will be good for our economy and wages in this country.

My right hon. Friend and her Department are to be massively congratulated on having got to the final stages of the CPTPP agreement. It is a market worth £8.4 trillion. Does she agree that it presents an enormous opportunity to propel our exports into a very high growth area of the world in the Pacific Rim and that it will have particular implications for certain sectors such as food and drink and financial services?

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. There are indeed many people across the Department and our network around the world who are to be congratulated on getting us this far. He is right: there are massive benefits in market opportunities, but the deal will also have a disproportionately positive effect on sectors here that have high wages. That will really help in creating jobs with above average wages. We will work very hard to ensure that we can realise those opportunities in the shortest possible time.

Flow of Goods from the EU

13. What steps her Department is taking to (a) reduce barriers to and (b) increase the speed of the flow of goods from the EU to the UK. (905865)

Removing barriers to trade is the core business of this Department, and we have plans to introduce the best border in the world by 2025.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Unfortunately, Brexit has erected trade barriers with the European Union, and businesses are struggling with imports and exports. A new business in my Edinburgh South West constituency lost thousands of pounds importing a consignment of honey, because it lacked the correct paperwork. A huge amount of effort went into sorting out that paperwork, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The Scottish chamber of commerce tells me that Scottish businesses are effectively spending twice as much in costs due to inconsistencies in interpreting rules for imports and exports across the European Union and its partnership countries. This situation has been brought about by Brexit, so the Government have a responsibility to help businesses, such as the one in my constituency that I mentioned. Will the Minister reopen the Brexit support fund to help business?

I would say two things in response to that. First, much of the friction that the hon. and learned Lady is talking about is coming from the EU’s requirements on us. In voting for Brexit, it was not our intention, or the nation’s motivation, to erect trade barriers. The problem was that the price of frictionless trade was too high. That is why the UK has left the EU. What we want to do is remove barriers; we want as frictionless trade as possible. I hope that she will help us make the case to the EU to do that.

We have 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) has spoken about, and also the Trader Support Service, which is focused absolutely on these issues. There is also financial support to enable businesses to export or to get their sectors better prepared for some of the challenges that they are facing. Our door—I speak for all Ministers—is always open to the hon. and learned Lady if she wants to raise individual cases. We stand behind our producers, our manufacturers and our exporters, and we will do everything we can to ensure that they are maximising the opportunities available to them.

Agricultural Exports to EU

We support our farmers and food producers through all stages of their export journey to Europe and across the world. That includes support to exhibit at global food and drink trade events such as Sial in Paris and through the UK trade show programme. We also provide support through our network of agriculture, food and drink trade advisers based across Europe and we are working with the National Farmers Union and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to establish a mentoring programme for agricultural exporters.

The British Veterinary Association reports that over the past two years the number of EU vets registering for work in the UK has fallen by two thirds, while demand for food-related export certificates has increased 12-fold, by 1,255%. Wales was denied a seat at the trade negotiations, of course, and now Welsh farmers face increased competition from New Zealand and Australia. Is the hon. Gentleman really satisfied that his Government here in London are supporting Welsh food exports?

Topical Questions

In light of Russia’s outrageous, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine it is more important than ever that we stand together with those who share our values and take swift and firm action against those who seek to overthrow democracy and threaten our allies. Trade between friends and allies promotes growth and prosperity and, in a climate of mutual respect, free and fair trading rules bring a mutual economic and cultural boost between nations.

Last week I was in Singapore to sign our new digital economy agreement, the most innovative trade agreement ever signed. The digital sector alone adds £150 billion to the economy and lifts wages, with workers earning around 50% more than the UK average. The agreement connects the UK to the fastest-growing economies in the Asia- Pacific region and furthers our bid to join Singapore and 10 other nations in the trans-Pacific partnership. Membership will mean access to a free trade area with a GDP of £8.4 trillion and vast opportunities for our UK exporters.

On Monday this week, I signed the UK-New Zealand free trade agreement with my fellow Trade Minister Damien O’Connor. The agreement is the UK’s second trade deal negotiated from scratch since leaving the EU. We are demonstrating that global Britain can achieve as a sovereign trading nation, and we are strengthening ties with a close ally that shares our firm belief in free and fair trade.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the trade deals thus far. Last week we held an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on the UK-India talks, and I congratulate her also on kicking those talks off. Will she update the House on the progress of those talks, and can she ensure that we conclude them by the end of this calendar year?

On 13 January this year, our UK-India FTA negotiations were launched in Delhi. That first round concluded on 28 January. Discussions were productive and reflected the UK and India’s shared ambition to secure a comprehensive deal that will boost trade for both our nations. The positive discussions laid the groundwork for the UK and India to make positive and efficient progress, and the second round is due to begin on 7 March. I would not wish to give a precise landing zone, but we are working very closely and with optimism and effort on both sides.

The whole House stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, who are defending the right of sovereign nations to live in freedom with courage, determination and fortitude. Labour supports the toughest possible economic sanctions on Putin’s Russian regime, which is carrying out this barbaric and illegal invasion. I welcome the restrictions on banking and financial measures and the export ban on high-end technical equipment and components in electronics, telecommunications and aerospace, but at the same time we can and must do more. Labour Members have called for a total ban on exports of luxury goods to Russia. Will the Secretary of State heed those calls and commit this Government to that export ban on luxury goods so that Putin and his inner circle cannot live a Mayfair lifestyle in Moscow?

It is a great reassurance for the Ukrainians to know that in all parts of the House, here in the mother of Parliaments, we all stand together supporting them in every way that we can, and, across the world, bring together those voices that say, without exception, that the unprovoked aggression that Putin is showing Ukraine is unacceptable. We will continue to work across Government to make sure that we are using our UK powers as well as working with allies from across the world to tighten the screw so that Putin and his regime will find it more and more difficult not only to sustain their military campaigns but also find that they will no longer have access to their funds. The Foreign Secretary will continue to work on a number of areas. The impact of the SWIFT sanctions will be dramatic and catastrophic for Putin.

I do of course appreciate that it is vital to work together with friends and allies, but let me push the Secretary of State on this specific point, because cutting off the supply of luxury products would send a further signal to those in Putin’s Kremlin, who have, by the way, often accumulated wealth and possessions at the expense of the Russian people. We can act on this and we can act now. So will the Secretary of State work with her colleagues across Government, and indeed Governments across Europe who have concerns, whether on clothing, jewellery or diamonds, to get a comprehensive ban in place to stop Putin and his inner circle living in luxury while barbaric, evil acts are perpetrated on the people of Ukraine?

We will continue to work across Government using all the tools I mentioned, but in the meantime I encourage all those who continue to export to Ukraine to use the Export Support Service if they need that support. We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to make sure that Putin understands fully that the behaviour he is demonstrating is absolutely outrageous. The Foreign Secretary will lead those discussions.

T2. We have many successful global exporters home grown in North Devon, such as Turnstyle Designs, S+H lighting and Saltrock surf wear, but many smaller companies feel that this is not something that they can do. Will my hon. Friend highlight what support is available to companies in remote and rural areas such as North Devon to help them to grow and export? (905841)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have already undertaken over 80 virtual Export Academy events in the south-west of England. If she would like to attend the export showcase on 9 March, we can show her the full range of support that we can provide to her companies.

Farmers in Wales and in Gower are rightly angry because the Government’s own assessment shows that it is the beef and sheep markets that are going to suffer in the light of the Australia and New Zealand deals. Farmers in Wales cannot and never will be able to compete on price. How do Ministers and the Secretary of State square that circle and protect the livelihoods of farmers in Wales?

In all these deals we need to stay focused on what are the actual benefits and what are the actual risks for farmers and producers. To give one example, currently New Zealand does not use even half of its quota, so the notion that this market is suddenly going to be flooded with sheep meat from New Zealand is not correct. We need to look at the facts on this. There will be opportunities for our producers and that is what we need to stay focused on.

T3. Both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) had the great privilege of visiting Bangladesh last month with the Al-Tazid Foundation, where we had the opportunity to meet not only His Excellency the High Commissioner, who is doing such a fantastic job, but the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. We also took part in the business side. Bangladesh’s economy is growing at great pace; it is an increasingly dynamic economy. I appreciate that we are going to do a trade deal, but can the Secretary of State outline what steps are being taken by the Government to intensify trade, co-operation and investment between our country and Bangladesh? (905842)

Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing global economies and is strategically important to the UK as part of the Indo-Pacific tilt. DIT is preparing to hold a second trade investment dialogue with Bangladesh this year and there will be a visit by the Prime Minister’s trade envoy later this month. I am more than happy to speak to my hon. Friend, and I will ensure that any specific issues are fed into that dialogue.

Trade rules are so often rigged against women, especially women living in lower income countries. Will the Department commit to carry out mandatory gender impact assessments on all future UK trade deals in order to promote greater gender-just trade?

As part of the free trade agreements we have negotiated so far, we have specific gender chapters, because we wish to use the authority and the commitments that we make to these issues and work with these friends and allies with whom we are drawing trade agreements together. We want to ensure that we push for those values and for ground-level opportunities for SMEs led by women across the world, so that they can achieve.

T4. Some pork producers, including Cranswick, which has premises in Thirsk and Malton, did the right thing and self-suspended export licences to China due to a covid outbreak. Seventeen months later, those licences have not been reinstated. Can we do whatever we can to get these licences back in place? It would help Cranswick, those other producers and the pig industry generally, which is suffering quite badly. (905843)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue, and it needs to be resolved swiftly. Ministers from across this Department are lobbying to that effect, as are our Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Prime Minister has raised it personally.

It cannot be business as usual. As many countries are needing to divest and diversify their energy supply away from Russia, what trade mechanisms can the Secretary of State put in place to ensure that the UK can be part of that effort to assist those countries achieving that objective?

As we continue to look at how we can use our sanctions powers and work with allies across the world, things like the new sanctions brought in by the Secretary of State for Transport over the past week will start to bite on energy flows coming out of Russia.

T5. I warmly welcome the new trade deals that are being announced. Not all of them include financial services, which is our biggest export sector. Working closely with the Treasury, can the Secretary of State update the House on where the strategic focus is in increasing access for financial services firms and financial services exports? (905844)

The Government remain committed to championing export opportunities for our world-class financial services businesses. Through targeted export campaigns and an expansion of existing support services, we are promoting trade opportunities across the financial services spectrum and in specific areas such as asset management, green finance, fintech and insurance. The Government are also signing ambitious free trade agreements that will open new markets and reduce market access barriers for UK financial services, and I am in regular dialogue with the City Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on these issues.

When the Secretary of State responded to the question about luxury goods by not answering it, it begs the question, why not, and raises the question of whether there are conflicts of interest behind it. The contrast with Syria, where export controls were put in place, is stark. If it was appropriate for Syria, why is it not appropriate for Russia? I remind her of her words. She talked about working with allies and tightening the screw, so will she now, with her colleagues across Government, put in place that ban on luxury goods?

First, as someone who has been personally threatened by Alexander Temerko, I would just say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong to make insinuations about Members of Parliament in that respect. If we are going to assist this situation, stop those who are enemies of this state and have clean politics at both ends of this House, we need to focus on individuals, their moral obligations and what they have and have not done. The hon. Gentleman caveated his remarks to the Prime Minister yesterday in that spirit, so I caution him to follow his own advice.

On the issue of luxury goods, many products have been exported not only to Russia, but to other countries supporting Russia’s appalling, barbaric war.

There are obviously complex legal obligations surrounding that, which is why the Department has stood up the export support service. There was much criticism of Italy’s carve-out on those products, which I think was wrong. Our objective is clear: Russia must pay the price for this barbaric war and our policies will do that.

Order. We ought to be cautious about the language we use against Members. I support the Minister, who is suffering heavily from intimidation from people who I would not support. Let us be a bit more cautious about how we put things in future.

I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and of the Opposition in condemning the Ukraine invasion and in their criticism of Russia. It goes far wider than that, however, and it certainly cannot be business as usual, as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) just said. The free world is now in an existential struggle with despotic regimes such as Russia and China. What does global trade look like in the new era? I invite my right hon. Friend to—

Order. They have to be short questions. [Interruption.] In fairness, Sir Bernard, you know better than anybody, which is why you are the Chair of the Liaison Committee. I think the Secretary of State has got the message.

Do you want to leave? Seriously, it is not fair to other Members. I have to look after all Back Benchers.

We will continue to work across Government and with our allies to ensure that Putin’s regime feels the absolute force of all the sanctions that we can bring to bear.

Short question: I have every respect for the Secretary of State. Will she promise to burn the midnight oil and do something very dramatic to take on Russia and those countries that have failed to criticise it?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that not only I but every member of the Cabinet and all our Ministers are indeed burning the midnight oil to ensure that, as we work with our allies across the world, the message is absolutely clear and that pain—economic and other—is felt firmly by Putin.

This year’s research by Social Enterprise UK has found that social enterprises are overtaking the rest of the private sector in the proportion of firms that are exporting overseas. Does my hon. Friend agree that that shows the value of greater diversity in business?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With my other hat on as Minister for Equalities, I can say that with the full support of the Secretary of State, we are working to ensure that the exporters and their supply chains are fully representative of all sections of society.

What conversations has the Secretary of State had with her counterparts in the Scottish Government about how to increase Scottish exports to South American countries?

I am planning to visit our new trade and investment office in Edinburgh and I look forward to a dialogue with my counterpart at the first opportunity.

Can the Secretary of State update the House on the plans for a UK-Israel innovation summit and free trade agreement, following her recent visit?

Israel is one of our strongest allies and largest partners in global trade. We are working closely with our Israeli counterparts to deliver a successful summit in the next few weeks.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the big landmark trade deals, such as those with Australia and New Zealand, grab all the headlines, of equal importance is the less-publicised work that she is doing to tear down the trade barriers that prevent the export of British goods and services around the world?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Not only do the free trade agreements open the door for new opportunities to take away market access barriers but we continue to work week in, week out to pick off those market access barriers that can release more trade with friends and allies around the world. Some 200 of those have been cleared in the last month and we will continue to work closely on others. I encourage businesses that have particular issues to bring them to the Department’s attention.

In standing four-square with the people of Ukraine, it is important that we really make sanctions work and the Government have led the world in doing that. Crypto- currencies have been widely used to evade sanctions. Will my right hon. Friend look into that matter?

Steel is hugely important for Rotherham and Rother Valley, which is why it is essential to see the tariffs set by the United States on British steel dropped as soon as possible. Can my right hon. Friend outline what steps she is taking to get a resolution on this to get more jobs for Rother Valley and Rotherham?

My hon. Friend is a champion for Rother Valley, and he will be pleased to know that our section 232 tariff negotiations are going well. I will be speaking to my opposite number, Secretary Raimondo, in the next few days, and we hope to reach a conclusion very shortly.

In Northern Ireland, there are 123,000 SMEs. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure they are awarded the same trade opportunities as those in the rest of the United Kingdom, and has the Northern Ireland protocol hindered trade opportunities for SMEs?

I will raise that with my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to make sure that they have full access to all the trade support mechanisms that I outlined previously to ensure that all Northern Ireland businesses are fully aware of all the support packages available to them.