The Secretary of State was asked—
Trade with African Countries
Overall UK-Africa trade stood at £32 billion last year. We will increase that and achieve our investment goals. By 2030, Africa will have 1.7 billion consumers, and our post-Brexit trade policy will enable those nations to grow their economies and create opportunities for UK businesses.
I thank the Minister for that response. In all my visits to Africa on trade missions, it has been clear that people there really do want to do business with British companies, perhaps in preference to doing business with the Chinese. Will we do everything we can to make British companies realise the opportunities that exist in Africa?
First, let me place on record our thanks for everything my hon. Friend has done to improve trade with the continent and with Ethiopia in particular. He is right to say that there are massive opportunities there, but our great businesses face tough competition, including from China’s growing influence and impact on the region, particularly through soft infrastructure at the moment. In recent months, we have strengthened our situational awareness of what China is doing and are actively supporting UK businesses to reach those opportunities early. We are doing that through providing competitive finance and support across the continent.
As many African countries depend in normal times on Ukraine, Belarus and Russia for almost 100% of their grain, we find ourselves in a situation where we are trading in the same commodities markets as African countries, pushing up the prices for some of the poorest people in the world. Will the Minister acknowledge that, look again at the Government’s cut in aid and put that back to where it was? Will she also perhaps consider that the best way we can deal with that situation is by backing British farming, so that we can feed ourselves and not be robbing the food that should be feeding the poorest in the world?
Let me put the aid budget in context. If we trebled the aid budget, it still would not be enough to deal with some of the situations that that continent is facing at the moment. A group in Whitehall is looking at all these issues, including food security, both in Africa and in Ukraine. Within that, there will be opportunities for other nations to start being able to supply, to step in and fill that gap. Obviously, we will want to ensure that Ukraine’s food security is looked after as well. A huge amount is going on in Whitehall, and if the hon. Gentleman would like some more information, I am sure we could supply him with the detail.
British International English Language Schools
I thank my hon. Friend for, and congratulate her on her tireless work to support the sector. The Department will continue to support the English language training sector with both international student recruitment and the delivery of training overseas. We are supporting English UK’s “English with Confidence” campaign, which recognises the value of the sector to the UK economy—it supports more than 35,000 jobs and generates over a billion pounds each year.
I thank my hon. Friend for his response and for all the excellent work being done. Free of restrictions, English language schools in Eastbourne are beginning to power back after the pandemic, and it was a joy to see students return to Eastbourne over the Easter holidays. However, there are some concerns in the sector, specifically on group travel and visa requirements, which have led to fears that we could lose out to rival destinations such as Malta and the Republic of Ireland. What discussions has he had with his Home Office counterparts to tackle any of those potential barriers, to make sure that this remains one of our strongest exports?
I know the strength of the Eastbourne English language sector, and I believe my hon. Friend met alumni out in the United Arab Emirates; the spread of Eastbourne goes far and wide. The Department continues to work with the Home Office to work closely and constructively with the sector to support its recovery. That has included the introduction of a six-month allowance to study English at an accredited centre under the standard visitor route, meaning that EU students, together with nationals from more than 50 locations, can study for six months or less as visitors. We continue to work with the sector to ensure that we continue to remove barriers to it.
UK’s Green Industries: Foreign Direct Investment
First, I thank my hon. Friend for her efforts in boosting our nation’s trade with Norway and Iceland as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy.
Last year, on behalf of the Prime Minister, we delivered the global investment summit, which saw almost £10 billion of foreign investment into our offshore wind, hydrogen and electric vehicle sectors. Meanwhile, the Office for Investment landed almost £18 billion of further green deals, and just last month the Prime Minister met Australian investors, who committed more than £20 billion to clean energy projects across the kingdom.
I am proud that the UK is a leader in the G7 in the transition to net zero. I am the trade envoy to Norway and Iceland, where there are huge opportunities to do more to further that transition to net zero. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the discussions we have had specifically with companies in Norway and Iceland?
Can I just say to the Minister that he has his fan club up there in the Public Gallery? It is a pleasure to see his family watching him.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. They were delighted when you waved at them last time.
The United Kingdom is committed to deepening her partnership with Norway and Iceland, which was reinforced by the trade deal that I signed in July last year. It is one of our greenest deals ever and preserves our right to regulate to reach our net zero targets. Twin-tracking alongside that free trade agreement, we continue to collaborate on the development of green technologies such as the North sea link interconnector, which links the electricity systems of the United Kingdom and Norway and will increase the capacity of our renewable markets.
We now come to the SNP spokesperson, Drew Hendry.
The recent ScotWind announcement from the Scottish Government cements Scotland’s place as the world leader for floating offshore wind energy. It represents an incredible opportunity for unparalleled levels of inward investment while also taking meaningful action on climate change. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the SNP Scottish Government on making Scotland a global leader in offshore wind energy? Will he pledge to do all in his power to support this fantastic international trade and transition opportunity?
I am not sure about wind power, but there is already a lot of hot air in the House. I am delighted that the SNP now supports the British energy security strategy, which champions the power of offshore wind energy. I am also delighted that foreign investors are already responding to the United Kingdom Government’s proposals, including in the form of a sovereign investment partnership with the United Arab Emirates, which is investing £10 billion, including funds for energy transition.
I will forgive the Minister for showing off to his family, but this is an important issue. A net exporter of energy, Scotland has 25% of Europe’s offshore wind potential and is perfectly placed to step in to help Europe to pivot away from dependency on Russian oil and gas and towards renewable energy. Indeed, it is estimated that up to 30 GW could be available to export through ScotWind and INTOG—the innovation and targeted oil and gas process—and on top of that a manufacturing superhub at Nigg and Cromarty firth could export components throughout Europe, thereby reversing the historical position across the UK of importing technology, and so boosting trade. Specifically, will the Minister commit his Government to working with the Scottish Government to maximise this massive transition and international trade opportunity?
I am delighted to say that next week the Secretary of State will be in Aberdeen, demonstrating this Government’s commitment to the whole of the United Kingdom. We work with devolved Administrations across the kingdom to make sure that every corner of the country benefits from international trade. The truth is that while we are batting for every corner of the country, backing British businesses and supporting Scottish jobs, the SNP wants to cut Scotland off from its largest market, which is the British internal market.
Foreign investment in our green industries is extremely beneficial and welcome, as my Cleethorpes constituency can bear out. Equally, British-based companies have great opportunities to export our expertise in the green sector. What initiatives is the Department taking to develop those opportunities?
I always welcome my hon. Friend’s support for our agenda. The Department has already launched interventions to support international investment into all corners of the country. Those interventions include the high potential opportunities programme and the trade and investment hubs. The hub in Darlington assists more than 1,000 foreign direct investment projects throughout the country which will drive the technology forward.
Departure from the EU: Effect on UK Global Exports
For the first time in decades, the UK has an independent trade policy. We have secured FTAs with 70 countries plus the EU, covering nearly £800 billion-worth of bilateral trade in 2020, creating new opportunities for our UK exporters. To take these and more—building on an over £56 billion increase in nominal exports between 2016 and 2021—our export strategy is focusing on the needs of exporters, including a new export support service for exporters to Europe.
I can never be nasty to this Secretary of State as we are old friends. The fact is though that, as I trained at the London School of Economics as an economist and I like looking at the data, I can see that we have lost £20 billion in exports since we left the European Union. The Office for Budget Responsibility and everyone else says what great damage has been done to small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises, which Mr Speaker has in his constituency and I have in Huddersfield, the heart of SME manufacturing. Those businesses are hurting. The Secretary of State’s website says for them to get in touch with her if they need help. What help can she now give to small businesses in this country to enable them to cope?
Although there was indeed a drop in exports during covid, we have seen a 10% increase in the last quarter, which is very welcome. I am always happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, to discuss any particular businesses, but the export support service, which has now been running for a number of months, is there to support SMEs in particular if they have issues with a country in Europe with which they want to trade. The team has also been focusing on supporting businesses with Russian and Belarusian activities in the past month, especially on supporting them to find alternative supply chains. The export strategy, which we published in October last year, is bringing together a whole series of tools to help those SMEs to discover new markets, and, indeed, to use the ones that now have more prospects thanks to the FTAs that we have.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and her Department on their success in lifting the US 232 tariffs on UK steel and aluminium. Does she not agree that this flexibility to boost global trade afforded to us by our departure from the European Union is exactly why my constituents voted for Brexit?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent marriage, which is very exciting. Let me just note that those of us on the Front Bench begin to feel very old when our youngest Members start taking this great step of confidence, which exactly reflects how my hon. Friend has campaigned for his constituents on the matter of steel. It has been a real pleasure to be able to bring the section 232 tariffs to a conclusion so incredibly quickly, working with my US counterparts and understanding that our UK-US relationship is critical not only to trade, but across so many of those inter-related activities. We are working closely together on trade and security matters as we deal with the terrible challenges in Ukraine.
I call the Chair of the International Development Committee.
It is good to see the Secretary of State in good health.
With what the Secretary of State calls the UK’s independent trade strategy, the UK cannot even export a chicken leg to any country in the world without the commensurate weight of paper and bureaucracy going with that chicken leg. When she sees the lorry queues in Kent and what used to be an easy market for the UK, I wonder whether her Department has catalogued the hurdles of paper that exporters now have to cope with to trade with the European Union, especially as the Financial Times reports that, in “cut-off” UK—to quote the Minister—exports have fallen 14% compared with a rise in the rest of the world of 8.2%. This independent trade strategy is looking pretty woeful.
As I have already set out, the export support service, which we launched at the end of last year, is there to support those SMEs that have experienced technical issues when trading with the EU. Many of those issues have now been resolved, and we are helping businesses to deal with them. We are also helping those SMEs in all our constituencies that are considering exporting for the first time to look at how they can discover markets within the EU, across the wider European nations and in the rest of the world.
We now come to the Front Bench, with shadow Minister Gareth Thomas.
I take this opportunity to wish Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday, and all the great people of England a very happy St George’s day at the weekend.
With the Chancellor’s having accepted a report from the Office for Budget Responsibility confirming an ongoing 15% hit to British exports to Europe, and given, as my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) alluded to, the continuing extra red tape, customs checks and costs that businesses here face thanks to the Prime Minister’s poor trade deal with Europe, when will the Secretary of State publish a plan to put right some of that damage, to help British business and to make Brexit work better?
I will set out just some of the areas the export strategy is bringing forward, to help the hon. Gentleman to see exactly the strategic work we are doing. There is the export support service, which I have mentioned, and financial support for exporters, working through the shared prosperity fund to include export support through local investment plans. UK Export Finance is there to help and will look at supporting SMEs, where historically it has only supported large contracts. Having run a successful regional pilot of the UK Export Academy, we are rolling that out across the UK, providing digital tools. That is proving very popular, as businesses can educate themselves before launching into new markets.
The Department’s own research shows that export-related jobs pay higher than average, so the hit to our European exports, which the Secretary of State seems so complacent about, will prolong the cost of living crisis. It also underlines that since 2010 British exports have significantly underperformed compared with the rest of the G7, notably the United States and Germany. Businesses tell us that other countries have more ambitious export support programmes, while the Prime Minister blames our exporters for a lack of “energy and ambition”. Where does the Secretary of State think the blame lies?
I have set out the export strategy, which is bringing forward these tools, which goes exactly to the hon. Gentleman’s point. We are the opposite of complacent; we are here to support, through a dozen different routes, businesses to grow the export markets they already have or to discover exporting for the first time. One in seven businesses that could export does not yet, and we are keen to help those businesses find those markets across the globe, not only across the EU. Free trade deals such as the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which we are negotiating this year, will give us the opportunity to open up nearly $8 trillion-worth of new markets. We want to ensure that businesses can access those through all the tools we are providing for them.
Reducing Barriers to Global Trade
Bulldozing trade barriers enables countless British businesses to export goods and services around the world with greater ease and at lower cost. We resolved more than 200 barriers in the year ending April 2021—a 20% increase on the previous year. From securing British access to Japan’s poultry market, estimated by industry to be worth up to £13 million per year, and lifting the decades-long ban on British lamb exports to the US, estimated to be worth £37 million over five years, to cutting costs in services trade, an export of £304 billion in 2021, by up to 7% annually, we are getting on with the job.
Getting on with the job indeed. Breaking down barriers to trade and providing businesses with the right tools and support to reach global markets is exactly what we should be doing. I welcome the Department’s regional trade advisers and the role they play in supporting companies such as Carlton Packaging in Milton Keynes. To build on that support, will my hon. Friend work with me to bring together business in Milton Keynes, the Department and those regional trade advisers to support those business opportunities now that we have left the European Union?
I am very pleased to know that businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency, including Carlton Packaging, are receiving support from this Department. Milton Keynes has not only exports worth over £3.4 billion, but a great champion of our trade deals in him. I shall be delighted to work with him to help businesses to use those deals to create jobs and boost wages while lowering prices for consumers.
Outstanding EU Trade Issues
This Government have delivered the first free trade agreement the EU has ever reached based on zero tariffs and zero quotas. Our collective focus is now on implementing that agreement, ensuring that it delivers for our citizens and businesses. We have established the export support service as the first point of contact for UK businesses looking to export to the EU. Since its launch in October, it has received over 8,000 unique enquiries.
The export support service is clearly not working. In 2016, the Vote Leave campaign promised us tariff-free trade with the EU with minimum bureaucracy, not another support scheme. We find ourselves in a bureaucratic nightmare with freight delays and red tape blocking what was once hassle-free trade. SMEs in my constituency simply cannot afford the legal advice that is needed to navigate all that red tape. That is no surprise because HMRC data has shown that British trade with the EU has fallen significantly. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the Government will finally deliver on hassle-free, tariff-free trade like we were promised, or will she finally admit that this was never going to happen and that this trade fiasco is going to be the norm for us from now on?
As I said, the agreement reached has zero tariffs, which is exactly what the hon. Lady asks for. If there are specific businesses in Streatham that have issues and have not been able to get support from the export support service, she should contact me and my team, because 96% of all those who have used it have said to us that they would recommend it to others, which I take as a sign that the system is working. It is there not only to support those who have trouble but to help with discovering how to access new markets. Exporting is often considered difficult, but if we talk to those who do it, they say that they want to champion others. Our export champions, which are businesses that volunteer to speak to others and encourage them to export, are there to help those who are considering it. I would be happy to put some of her local businesses in touch with them as well.
Supply chain resilience is very important to EU trade. Will my right hon. Friend advise us on how often she has conversations with our colleagues in the Department for Transport and how helpful they have been?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I have discussions with many colleagues across Whitehall on a regular basis. The supply chain resilience question has obviously exercised all of us, and our businesses, ever since the problems when covid hit and we had to have so many new ways of thinking about our supply chains. We are now having to support our businesses, including those that have had supply chain issues through Russia and Belarus and are struggling to find new supply chains. There is a very strong and continuing thread throughout Whitehall to make sure that we support all our businesses. If anybody knows of any businesses that are struggling, they should contact us directly or through the export support service.
I call shadow Minister Nia Griffith.
I very much hope that the Secretary of State will agree that her Department’s business is not just about making deals but about making sure that those deals work for UK businesses.
This month, again, the British Chambers of Commerce has cited Brexit red tape as a cause of export stagnation, while IT systems failure has contributed to massive gridlock in Kent, the Road Haulage Association has warned of perishable goods going bad, and the Cold Chain Federation has said that Britain is being seen as too much hassle to deal with. So what exactly are the Secretary of State and her Cabinet colleagues doing to clear up this mess and to provide the efficient, smooth-flowing export routes to the EU—our biggest trading partner—that our businesses and hauliers deserve?
A number of factors have contributed to short-term delays at different points, including ship refitting, roadworks, bad weather, and the loss of a DFDS ferry due to damage, as well as checks for operators and issues on the other side of the channel. The volume of traffic through Dover means that some queuing is commonplace. I and those across Government continue to monitor that situation. The Department for Transport, in particular, is engaging very closely with the port of Dover, the ferry operators, industry groups and local stakeholders to ensure that the smooth running of trade can continue.
SMEs: Support for Export to Global Markets
Our export strategy’s action-led 12-point plan will support SMEs to thrive in the global market and raise the UK’s exporting culture in the long term. It includes our Export Academy, which has already received over 7,000 business registrations, and our export support service, which has dealt with over 8,000 enquiries, 1,000 of which are from businesses around my hon. Friend’s constituency in the south-east. We have the trade access programme, the international trade advisers, the export champions, and a whole range of support that we can provide, including UK Export Finance, to help SMEs to get on and export.
I thank the Minister and the Department for all they are doing in championing British exports. Jubilee Clips in Gillingham in my constituency is a fantastic local family-run business that employs over 100 people and exports hose clips to over 90 countries around the world. A real issue that it is facing is the uncertainty at the channel border crossing, which is leading to delays in delivering on its contracts. These delays are having a significant impact on local businesses and their ability to export. Will the Minister clarify what steps are being taken to address this specific challenge facing businesses in Kent and Medway?
The export support service notes all complaints about delays and raises them with HMRC, because the DIT is not responsible for the border. Where we find that there are different interpretations of the rules on either side, we work with our bilateral partners to eradicate those issues. On Jubilee Clips, if my hon. Friend wishes to write to me or bring the company in, I would be more than happy to discuss the matter in more detail.
Will the Minister detail what impact the Department’s 12-point strategy, entitled “Made in the UK, Sold to the World”, has had on SME exports from Scotland and how any progress can be further built on?
I do not have the details for Scotland, so I will write to the hon. Lady. We have opened an office in Scotland to ensure that we work closely with our partners to boost exports, but I will have to write to her on the details.
Trade with Israel
I am thrilled that our two Prime Ministers have agreed to negotiate an ambitious free trade agreement, with exciting new provisions in digital, data, technology, services and innovation. We have completed our consultation and are analysing the responses now, with a view to launching formal negotiations, along with others, later this year.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to negotiating a trade deal with our great friend and ally Israel, which will be of huge benefit to lots of businesses in High Peak and across the country. May I urge the Minister to go further and ensure that any deal does not just include products but looks at services, which make up around 70% of both the UK and Israel’s economies? It is an area in which we are both world leaders, and there would be much mutual benefit.
Absolutely. My hon. Friend correctly points out that our two economies have strong service sectors but our current deal predominantly caters for trade in goods. That is why we intend to negotiate a more ambitious, comprehensive and innovation-friendly trade deal, which will open up opportunities for British businesses in areas such as tech, data and digital. My hon. Friend will be aware that next month we are hosting the first ever joint innovation and investment summit between our two countries. That will be a key moment as we deepen our relationship, creating opportunities to increase trade and investment between our nations, create new jobs and boost wages.
Exports of Renewable Energy Services
The DIT champions the UK’s green exporters all around the world. At the beginning of this month I was in Norway, where I promoted the UK’s green energy offer, and Lord Grimstone spoke at WindEurope in Spain on 6 April. Renewable sector teams within the Department are also working to establish export capability guides, to highlight the UK’s strengths. In our Australia and New Zealand trade deals, we have agreed the removal of tariffs on UK exports of products such as electric vehicles and wind turbine parts, and we have also secured the most substantive climate provisions that Australia and New Zealand have ever committed to in an FTA. UK exports in energy saving and sustainable energy systems increased by over 20% between 2016 and 2019.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. The offshore wind industry in East Anglia is a great success story, and there are more and more examples of local businesses working all around the world. There is a worry that this may only be short-term and transitory as other countries set up their own local industries. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend outlined the strategy that is being pursued to ensure that the sale of UK equipment and services is a permanent feature of offshore wind’s global supply chains.
In 2020, the Prime Minister announced that £160 million would be made available to upgrade offshore wind ports and manufacturing, and the money has now been invested. We announced £1.6 billion of investment in our offshore wind sector just last year, including seven new major manufacturing investments and two new offshore wind ports, creating 4,100 jobs by the end of the decade. Alongside that, we have agreed the removal of tariffs on UK exports of products such as wind turbine parts, knowing that we will continue to grow and invest in our manufacturing as well as the service and support aspects of the offshore wind sector, in which the UK continues to be world-leading.
UK Steel Exports
Since 2018, the US Government have imposed tariffs of up to 25% for steel coming into the US. Last month I was pleased to reach a resolution with the US Government, and the tariff-free volumes that we have secured on steel and aluminium will mean that UK steel and aluminium exports to the US can return to levels not seen since before section 232 tariffs were imposed. The deal will deliver for our steel and aluminium industries across the country, and for the 80,000 UK jobs supported by the sector.
I am glad that it took only four years. May I, as the trade rapporteur for the Council of Europe, turn the Secretary of State’s attention to EU carbon border taxes? Does she agree that they will help boost UK exports to countries that export steel manufactured products to the EU? Will she also pursue a UK carbon border tax so that Chinese dirty steel, which has twice the carbon footprint of British steel, does not undercut our steel, and work in harmony with the EU so that we can help protect our jobs and exports and, indeed, the planet?
The Treasury is looking closely at all those questions. Indeed, they are also the subject of discussions that I have had in some detail with my counterparts in the US and other nations. Thanks to the leadership that the UK offered at COP26, the question of how we manage these global questions is now right at the centre of all discussions. The EU is putting forward proposals, and I will continue to work with the Treasury as we think about how the UK wants to fit with that. If the hon. Gentleman wants more detail and information, I refer him to the Treasury.
UK Sanctions on Russia
I am very busy today, Mr Speaker. In co-ordination with our allies, we are introducing the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, to help cripple Putin’s war machine. We are denying Russia most-favoured-nation treatment relating to hundreds of key products, ramping up the pressure on Russia’s economy by making it more difficult for it to trade by imposing punitive tariffs of 35%. We are prohibiting the export of certain goods, including critical technologies and luxury goods, and finally we are also phasing out the import of Russian oil and coal to deny it access to lucrative energy revenues. Details can be found in the impact assessment on gov.uk.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Last week I visited Poland with Conservative colleagues as part of Project Maja, the Conservative social action project. It included a visit to the Russian border, and what is usually a very busy border crossing with lots of commerce on both sides was, obviously, eerily quiet. The economic impact of this war is going to be long lasting for the neighbours in that region for some time, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that we do all we can to boost trade with them?
I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment to our eastern European neighbours and allies. This is an incredibly difficult time for all of them, not only in security terms but in terms of economics and trade as well. I will meet the Ukrainian ambassador this afternoon to discuss further ways in which we can support them and help Ukrainian businesses to continue to trade as easily as possible, and we are working very closely with CBIs in the region to help them find solutions. This is a very difficult situation, and the UK, working in concert with the US and the EU, will do all we can both to stop the trade and opportunities for Putin to raise cash to fund his war machine, and to ensure that those countries that are standing by Ukraine, providing it with defensive support and incredible humanitarian support to keep its citizens safe, will be able to trade as easily as possible through this difficult crisis.
Let us move on to Jim Shannon.
You almost caught me out there, Mr Speaker. May I, on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, wish Her Majesty the Queen a very happy birthday on this special day?
I thank the Secretary of State very much for her response to the question. This United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is united in its campaign to put sanctions on Russia. The effects include some companies across the United Kingdom, but companies in Northern Ireland in particular are having to find alternative places to sell their products and alternative sources to purchase products that they usually buy from Russia. What has been done to help those UK companies, including those in Northern Ireland?
Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, this is difficult for some businesses. Our export support service has been focused on supporting those businesses with difficulties created by their Russian or Belarusian supply chains. It is a pleasure to be able to say that it has been extraordinary to witness so many businesses taking such decisions, even though it is economically difficult for them, because it is the right thing to do morally to step away from anything to do with Russia. Huge credit and thanks to all the businesses taking those very difficult economic decisions.
Looking at Northern Ireland, while some businesses are suffering, businesses such as Thales in Northern Ireland have been extraordinary in helping to provide support by providing the NLAWs—next-generation light anti-tank weapons—and defensive equipment that can help the Ukrainians fight the Putin war machine. Enormous thanks to all those businesses that are helping to support us and are working with the Ministry of Defence in particular to make sure that we can support the Ukrainians with the defensive equipment they need.
UK Trade Agreements: Workers’ Rights
Both agreements with Australia and New Zealand commit parties to maintain international labour standards.
The Minister will be aware that the TUC was first promised a seat on a trade advisory board in November 2020, and 18 months on it has still not been offered that seat. It was quite right that life sciences, transport, financial services and various other bodies have seats on these trade boards. Why do the Government have a problem with the TUC or any of our trade unions, which do an enormous amount of work in protecting workers’ rights in this country?
The issue is that the unions have not taken up the seat they were offered, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has included dialogue with unions in our trade negotiations at every opportunity—most recently, with the work she has been doing to secure a US FTA—and we will continue to do that. They are important stakeholders, and they will always be offered a seat at the table.
Can the Minister tell the House whether the issue of labour standards in supply chains has been raised with India during the trade negotiations?
The hon. Member will know from the trade negotiations that we have concluded already, that this always forms a part of those negotiations through our discussions and consultations. I can get her chapter and verse on that and some details. It is not one of the FTAs I look after, but I can assure her that that is a core part of our negotiations.
I call the shadow Minister, Ruth Cadbury.
In 2019, the UK signed a trade deal with Colombia. Two years after that deal, Colombia remains the deadliest country for workers and trade union members, with 22 assassinations in the last two years alone. However, the UK’s trade deal has no clear enforcement mechanisms to protect the rights of workers or trade unionists. Will Ministers learn anything from this failure, especially when they negotiate future trade agreements with Gulf states?
I refer the hon. Member to some remarks on this issue that I made last year in Westminster Hall, where I took the time to list some of the activists—trade union activists, environmental activists—who have been brutally murdered. I listed those people on the Floor in Westminster Hall because it is important that we shine a spotlight on those issues. She will know that we have also taken great efforts to raise this issue at the UN, and I think we are upholding our obligations to those people in doing that.
Support for UK Manufacturing Exports
In 2021, the DIT launched a new export campaign for manufacturing businesses—"Made in the UK, Sold to the World”. The campaign, in line with our refreshed export strategy, celebrates the quality of the UK manufacturing sector and its global demand. We are supporting businesses across all the UK regions and nations to amplify and boost export opportunities throughout the manufacturing sector.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Would he join me in celebrating the success of the port of Liverpool, which had its busiest month in March, when it handled 52,000 containers? Would he also continue to do all he can to ensure that we make more use of these amazing facilities, especially to export British manufactured goods?
I congratulate the port of Liverpool on its busiest ever month and look forward to the record being beaten regularly as exports from the north-west continue to grow. The Department continues to help exporters across the Liverpool city region and the wider north-west. Indeed, last month I joined a joint mission to Ireland with the Mayors of the Liverpool city region and Greater Manchester—the first of its kind. The mission allowed us to showcase 15 exporters from the north-west, who were able to talk about the strength of the region, to boost the future trading relationship between our two countries.
Will my hon. Friend update the House on how manufacturing exports are considered when negotiating free trade agreements?
We are proud to advance UK manufacturing exports through our free trade agreements programme. For example, with Australia and New Zealand, we eliminated tariffs for 100% of UK manufacturing exports. In almost all cases, tariffs will be eliminated the day that the agreement comes into force. That will save, for example, £34 million of duties for UK car exports to Australia from day one, supporting our levelling-up agenda.
My constituency has a long history of manufacturing excellence, whether in iron and steel or in producing the best glass in the world. I have fantastic companies, such as Quality Metal Products. How is the Department ensuring that UK manufacturers remain competitive in attracting inward investment to help companies in my constituency to support growth?
The UK has a proud reputation as one of the most attractive economies in the world. In 2020, the UK secured the most greenfield foreign direct investment in Europe, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Last year, the £1.4 billion global Britain investment fund announced aims to increase our attractiveness, especially to manufacturers. I am more than happy to link up with my hon. Friend’s manufacturers to see what we can do to boost manufacturing in her constituency.
The figures reported for UK goods exports show that they fell by 14% in the three months to January compared with the same period in 2020. That is in contrast with an 8.2% global average rise over the same period. When the Minister and the Secretary of State announce a range of initiatives to help exporters, will they admit that the capacity is simply not there to deliver the additional support for exports that especially our small and medium-sized enterprises need?
I wholeheartedly disagree with the hon. Gentleman: the capacity is there. We provide the export support service, the international aviation fund, international trade advisers, the export academy, export champions, the tradeshow access programme, the international market support programme, UK Export Finance—all of which were showcased at the parliamentary export showcase, which I am not sure the hon. Gentleman attended. He could have found out more details if he had come to it.
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.
I call the shadow Secretary of State, Nick Thomas-Symonds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.