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Topical Questions

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 21 April 2022

As part of the UK’s leadership on sanctions against the Putin regime, we have raised tariffs by 35% on hundreds of Russian goods worth £900 million in trade. By the end of 2022, the UK will end all dependency on Russian coal and oil, and end imports of gas as soon as possible. We have banned the export of key oil refining equipment and catalysts, and we are banning the import of steel and iron products and the export of luxury goods.

On a more positive note, during my recent visit to the US, I was able to secure the removal of the section 232 tariffs, meaning that we now have tariff-free access to the US market for the first time since 2018. I also chaired our first UK-US joint dialogue on the future of Atlantic trade, whereby the UK and the US can build and deepen our co-operation on trade. I will be welcoming my US counterparts to Aberdeen next week to continue those discussions.

I have also launched the FTA negotiations with Canada. Both countries want a new and modern trade deal, befitting our close and historic relationship. I will provide further updates to Parliament as those negotiations progress.

The south-west is known for not only its food, but its wonderful drink. Thousands of acres of orchards across the west country produce some of the world’s best cider, supporting around 12,000 jobs. What steps are the Government taking to help our drinks industry get their products on shelves across the globe?

We are striving for tariff-free drinks exports through our FTAs, and the Prime Minister promoted that when he hosted a food and drink showcase in Downing Street last November. We are opening new markets and extending our network of 100 overseas food and drink advisers by recruiting eight new specialist agriculture attachés. So I hope that the multi-award-winning Ventons Devon Cyder, Courtneys of Whimple cider and the Smedley family’s Four Elms ciders will take full advantage of those opportunities.

In recent weeks, the Government announced the suspension of all tariffs and quotas on trade between the United Kingdom and Ukraine. Labour supports that, but may I press the Government to go even further? The political, free trade and strategic partnership agreement between the UK and Ukraine was signed back in 2020. Will the Government commit to updating that agreement to make the scrapping of tariffs and quotas not just a temporary measure but a permanent one to support the Ukraine’s recovery from this appalling illegal invasion in the years ahead?

I am grateful that the Opposition support the Government’s work to help Ukrainian businesses to continue to trade in an incredibly difficult time for them. We will continue to look at how we can both support Ukraine and its population to defend its territory—that will involve ensuring that its economy can thrive—and tighten the sanctions and trade pressures on Russia and those such as Belarus who work alongside it. In the short term, we will bring that forward through the existing FTA. We will also continue to work with the Ukrainians. As I said, I am meeting the Ukrainian ambassador later today to discuss how we can further support that country.

I have met the Ukrainian Business and Trade Association, as I am sure has the Secretary of State, and I know that there were already issues with how the quota system worked before the invasion occurred. Having any trade restrictions back in place will only cause further problems for Ukraine’s economic recovery. Any permanent, updated trading arrangement with Ukraine will be supported by Labour, so will the Secretary of State set an urgent date to bring a permanent arrangement into effect to give desperately needed certainty to Ukrainian businesses?

As I said, we are continuing to work very closely with our Ukrainian counterparts, and after questions the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), will meet the business group to continue those discussions and ensure that we are both targeting in the short term and thinking about long-term ways in which we can support Ukraine and help it recover from this illegal invasion.

T2. In spite of the ongoing conflict in Tigray, a number of businesses have contacted me to say that they want to increase the amount of business that they do in Ethiopia. Will the Minister keep the dialogue going with the Ethiopian Government? That will help our businesses and may help to bring the conflict to an end. (906475)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. UK exports to that country were up 7.2% on the previous year. He will know that recently we have had a UK-led consortium committing $8 billion of investment into telecoms, which will significantly increase growth and jobs and help the digital economy in that country. I thank him again for the role that he played in securing that investment.

T5. This morning, much has been made of our links with Ukraine, and that comes at a time when the Prime Minister is in India for trade talks. We also hear reports of a $2 billion increase in India’s trade with Russia. What implications does that have for our relationship with India and for our sanctions on Russia? Will that be taken into account in the Prime Minister’s dealings? Will he be putting pressure on India to sanction Russia? (906479)

I am really pleased that the Prime Minister is able to be in India today and tomorrow to discuss broad matters of trade and to support the Department’s work to bring together a really comprehensive trade deal with India in the months ahead. He is also there to discuss the international situation. He has a good relationship with Prime Minister Modi, and I know that he will discuss all these issues. The UK, the US and the EU have been working in close concert to bring together a series of sanctions, limitations and export bans, and the Prime Minister will discuss with Prime Minister Modi what we have been doing in the UK, with the US. They will continue to take the direction that they need for their economy.

T3. Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Simon Jupp), across the Tamar, Cornwall is famous for its exceptional produce. What additional help has the Department given to firms from Cornwall so that they can make the best possible use of international trade deals? (906477)

Locally based trade advisers, as well as support through the UK export academy, can help businesses such as Cornwall’s Ideal Foods take advantage of all free trade agreements. Cornwall’s very own tea grower and producer, Tregothnan, will benefit from tariffs being removed on all UK food and drink exports to Australia.

T7. Figures indicate that Chile is the UK’s 60th largest export market. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the work being undertaken to create an updated and bespoke trade deal with Chile? As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Chile, I hope that the group can meet the Department to support that work. (906481)

It is always a pleasure to meet the hon. Lady. I am happy to confirm that we are committed to bulldozing trade barriers. I am pleased that Chile has been able to approve British pork producers exporting into a market that is worth over £200 million as part of our total trade in goods and services of £26.5 billion. There is more to do; I am happy to meet her.

T4. The Gulf states are an important trading zone for businesses based in Warrington South, particularly given the excellent links through Manchester Airport to the Gulf. What progress is my hon. Friend making in developing trade and investment links between the UK and the Gulf Co-operation Council? (906478)

The six GCC nations form together one of our largest trading partners, with total trade standing at over £31 billion in the four quarters to September last year. In January, we completed a public consultation in support of a trade deal with the GCC that gets the best deal for British businesses and consumers. We aim to start those negotiations with others later this year. In the meantime, we are driving forward investment, including £1 billion from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia supporting sustainable aviation in Teesside, and, as I referred to earlier, £10 billion from the United Arab Emirates in a sovereign investment partnership.

T8. Vivarail showcased its world-beating, self-charging battery trains to delegates at COP26 in Glasgow. What steps is the Minister taking to promote UK manufacturing, especially green manufacturing, and win export orders for excellent businesses such as Vivarail, which is located in my constituency? (906482)

We are always looking for companies we can showcase. We can sell companies such as Vivarail around the world. Whenever we talk to our partners abroad on bilateral agreements looking for investment in green and renewable energy, including on transportation, we will always do our best to push forward expert companies such as the one the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

T6. States in the USA such as Texas and California have a larger GDP than many European nations. Aside from the UK-US trade negotiations, will the Minister say what progress is being made on trade deals between the UK and individual states in the USA? (906480)

We are making considerable progress on that. We are in discussions with around 20 US states. I have just returned from Texas, which if it were a country in its own right would be the seventh largest economy in the world. We are going to do a state-level agreement with Texas, we hope, by October this year. We will start signing those agreements with US states next month. The first eight we have in the pipeline will be equivalent to 20% of the United States economy.

During the recent British-American Parliamentary Group trade and security delegation to the US, we received the unequivocal message that any US-UK trade deal would have to be worker-centric. We also heard that the Secretary of State had said during the Baltimore dialogues that levelling up was the British equivalent of worker-centric and that therefore any levelled-up trade deal would have workers at its heart. Can she confirm whether that is the case and, if so, how she will ensure a worker voice at every trade meeting and discussion?

The Baltimore dialogues—the first of our trade dialogues, held just a few weeks ago—was exactly that: a gathering together of voices from across businesses, industry councils and trade union groups from both sides of the Atlantic. It was an incredibly constructive discussion. We were pleased, obviously, that our voices were there, as they always are at all our tables. It was interesting that the US was really pleased to be bringing its trade union voices to the table with industry for the first time. It was a very positive discussion, which embedded clearly how everybody will be at the table as we move forward together.

T9. The global surge in energy prices has highlighted the importance of securing both inward investment in green energy generation in the UK and related trading partnerships. Will my hon. Friend set out what the Government are doing to accelerate both those things? (906483)

We are driving unprecedented investment in green industries, with the British energy security strategy announcing further cuts to the red tape that hampers growth in some of these sectors. My noble Friend Lord Grimstone is leading our new Office for Investment, and I am delighted that our friends across the Gulf are as keen as we are to back innovation in this area. For instance, £100 million has flowed in from Qatar to support small modular reactors and net zero technology.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2019—now the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities—insisted to the public that food and welfare standards would be maintained under UK trade deals struck after Brexit. Indeed, the Prime Minister has said so frequently, but the Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency is reported as saying yesterday that he wants to see food regulations slashed. Who is right?

We have always been crystal clear that our food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards are not for sale.

Can we have an update on our joining the trans-Pacific partnership? That is important not only because of the growing markets, but because of the international challenges, stability and defence in the region.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we have reached a major milestone on that accession process by moving to market access negotiations with that trade bloc. In addition to opening up a new market, this will also help us on such matters as maritime security and meeting the goals of the integrated review. CPTPP has strong rules against the unfair trade practice whereby some countries—China has been mentioned—give unreasonable advantages to state-owned enterprises or discriminate against foreign investors. Our vision for that part of the world has trade at its heart.