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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 16 June 2022

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

UK’s Green Industries: Export Opportunities

1. What steps her Department has taken to increase export opportunities for the UK’s green industries. (900486)

Our clean growth programme launched during COP26 has boosted support for green exporters, including a new clean growth faculty in our Export Academy, while UK Export Finance has provided over £7 billion of support for sustainable deals since 2019. Our free trade agreements are liberalising green trade, supporting green jobs across the country, including on the Humber. This autumn we will host a UK green trade and investment expo in the north-east connecting UK industry with global investors and buyers to promote green opportunities.

It is quite clear that the Government are doing a great deal to promote the green sector and make it easier for our British-based companies to exploit the export market, but given the commitments that have been made by countries across the globe at the COP26 conference, there is clearly always more that can be done. Are the Government planning any additional new initiatives other than those that the Minister has outlined?

The Government will continue to use the free trade agreements to liberalise and encourage green investment. We lead outward-bound trade visits. We are constantly seeking opportunities and talking to our partner countries to assist them in expanding on green exports, particularly in things like solar power, wind power, renewables and smart cities. These are all technological sectors where the UK leads the world.

What discussions has the Minister had with the Scottish Government about the potential for Scotland’s green energy industries such as offshore wind and hydrogen and the part that they have to play in a UK trade strategy?

I am planning a trip to Scotland in the very near future to have the very conversations that the hon. Lady mentions. The Department works closely with the Scottish Government. Only this week, we took a trade delegation of Azerbaijanis up to Aberdeen to look at how people can transition from carbon to renewable energy.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I start by endorsing your comments about our colleague, my friend, Jo Cox? She is still very much missed and always will be.

It is vital that we support green industries in the UK, especially those that are exporting products around the world, yet the investor state dispute settlements threaten green industries and renewable energy projects. Many of these provisions are in the energy charter treaty, which lets fossil fuel companies sue Governments who are trying to decarbonise, such as the Netherlands. Will the Government therefore support efforts to remove in full these protections for fossil fuel companies in the energy charter treaty?

I understand that we have never been defeated in any disputes on that particular subject. If the hon. Lady has any specific issues about barriers that she wants to have addressed, I am more than happy to ensure that that conversation is taken forward. As the Minister responsible for exports, I can say that those particular barriers have never been raised with me when talking to partner countries.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I echo your comments regarding our colleague Jo Cox?

Germany is a key export target, along with other nations, for Scottish clean hydrogen. Scotland is already a net energy exporter—an energy-rich country ready for independence. Given that clean hydrogen from Scotland can generate an extra £25 billion gross value added and create tens of jobs by 2045, what discussions has the Minister had with his Government colleagues about reversing the £1 billion betrayal of the carbon capture and storage scheme at Peterhead, dumped in 2017 and shamefully ignored ever since, in order both to capitalise on and turbocharge this export potential?

If there is such great export potential, I am surprised that the member of the Scottish Government who, let us not say has responsibility for exports, because we have been there before, but who does specific work on exports, has not raised it with me. I look forward to that conversation when I go up to Scotland, but if this is such a barrier, I urge the Scottish Government to discuss it with the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change.

India: Foreign Direct Investment and Trade

2. What recent discussions she has had with her Indian counterpart on increasing (a) trade with and (b) foreign direct investment from India. (900490)

15. What recent discussions she has had with her Indian counterpart on increasing (a) trade with and (b) foreign direct investment from India. (900507)

Mr Speaker, I should also like to associate myself with your comments about our colleague Jo Cox.

Our trading relationship with India was worth over £24 billion last year, and we are already India’s top investment destination in Europe. We have had many discussions and remain determined to create more good jobs and boost wages across Britain. Together, we are bulldozing trade barriers and—from Scotch whisky to Welsh lamb and medical devices—I think we all know that a trade deal will take our relationship even further.

My constituency of Kensington has strong links with India. We have the oldest gurdwara in the whole of Europe, the Khalsa Jatha, and we also have the residency of the Indian high commission. Indeed, on Sunday I will be with the Indian high commissioner in Holland Park launching International Yoga Day. Everyone is welcome to attend. [Laughter.] Can my hon. Friend explain to the House how a trade agreement with India can benefit the whole of the UK?

I may not be sufficiently flexible to attend and to join the high commissioner on International Yoga Day, but it is wonderful to hear of my hon. Friend’s collaboration.

Following the Prime Minister’s visit to India in April, British and Indian businesses have confirmed more than £1 billion of new investment and export deals in areas from software engineering to health, and this has created almost 11,000 jobs across the country, including in Edinburgh, Leeds, Northumberland and York. This illustrates how investment and a trade deal will continue to bolster our levelling-up agenda to the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Does the Minister agree that British business should look more towards India than China for future trade relationships given its democratic structure and our historical ties, and what steps are the Government taking to encourage and facilitate that?

The world’s oldest democracy and the world’s biggest are certainly natural partners, and this, alongside our historical ties and thoroughly modern relationship with one of the fastest growing economies in the world, makes India a clear priority trading partner for the United Kingdom. Through the integrated review, we are pursuing deeper engagement with India and other partners across the Indo-Pacific, and I am very keen to continue our work to support those who do so much to champion Anglo-Indian relations.

Mr Speaker, may I associate myself with your comments about Jo Cox? It is hard to believe that it is six years, but while she was cruelly taken from us and from her family, she very clearly lives on with her legacy, and we remember that.

I thank the Minister for his response. We understand that there are clear contacts between ourselves and India culturally, economically and historically. At the same time, can the Minister outline what steps are being taken to ensure compliance with human rights, which is an essential component of any trade deal, as a priority? Human rights must be central to any deal.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a great champion of religious freedom in particular, and the Government’s international obligations and commitments, including on freedoms, are always of paramount importance when it comes to making our decisions. We encourage all states to uphold their obligations, and we condemn any incidences of discrimination because of religion or belief, regardless of the country or faith involved. We do engage with India on a range of issues, as global Britain does carry the torch of freedom forward.

We very much welcome the prospect of increased trading opportunities with India, a country with which we have many historical ties. At the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year, Prime Minister Modi announced demanding commitments to reduce emissions. After the Government’s shocking sell-out on the Australia deal, what preparation is the Minister making to use a possible trade deal to support Modi’s ambitions and to act on recommendations from the CBI about how our trade policy can support our climate goals, such as by including incentives to meet or surpass emissions reduction targets in a trade agreement?

I am not going to comment on live negotiations. Indeed, we were delighted to welcome the Indian negotiators to London this week for a further round of discussions. We have been very clear that we want trade to be a force for good in the world, including green trade, which we believe can create thousands if not millions of jobs across Britain and indeed the world, and I am sure that the Indian Government would agree.

Trade with Commonwealth Countries

Mr Speaker, may I also associate myself with your remarks about Jo Cox and her legacy? My thoughts are with her family today.

Pre-pandemic, the combined GDP of the Commonwealth was $9 trillion, and nearly 80% of that was due to four nations: us, India, Canada, with which we are now negotiating a free trade agreement, and Australia, with which we have already secured a from-scratch FTA. With 27 economic partnerships, we intend to boost our intra-Commonwealth trade to $2 trillion by 2030.

In this year of the platinum jubilee, what better time could there be to cement our bond with Commonwealth countries? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this would be an excellent year to redouble our efforts to increase trade with those nations, which have such a strong history with our own?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. Yes, we have the jubilee, and we also have the Commonwealth games, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is approaching. It is right that we celebrate and enhance the power of our Commonwealth family. We are united in our commitment to democracy, peace and prosperity, and we will continue to work with our partners to capture the potential of the Commonwealth advantage, which on average allows for 21% lower bilateral trade costs between Commonwealth countries, compared with most non-Commonwealth countries. We should put all our weight behind maximising that.

Surveillance Technology: Trade with China

4. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the impact of trade with China on surveillance technology. (900493)

China remains a significant trading partner for the United Kingdom, and there is scope for mutually beneficial trade and investment. In 2021, China was Britain’s third largest trading partner, but our approach to China is, and will remain, rooted in our values. As set out in the integrated review, we want a positive trade and investment relationship with China, but we will make sure that Britain’s national security, and the values of the British people, are protected.

The EU Parliament, Australian Government, and the US recognise the dangers of Chinese state owned surveillance cameras, and are introducing sanctions against Hikvision, and others, due to the national security considerations, and the facilitation of human rights atrocities in Xinjiang. The UK Government have not ceased trade in those products, and are placing them in UK schools, hospitals, on our streets, and even in Government Departments. Does the Minister agree that the UK should immediately cease trading in security equipment with China, and funding those companies implicated in genocide?

We remain seriously concerned about allegations levied against Chinese surveillance firms with regard to Xinjiang, and we take the security of our citizens, systems and establishments very seriously. We have a range of measures in place to scrutinise the integrity of our arrangements. In addition, the Procurement Bill will further strengthen the ability of public sector bodies to disqualify suppliers from bidding for contracts where there is a history of misconduct. We have already set out a number of measures to help ensure that no British organisations are profiting from or contributing to the violations of rights.

UK-India Free Trade Agreement

As I said a moment ago, talks with India continue to be positive, and on Monday we welcomed Indian officials to London for the fourth round of negotiations. An FTA offers the opportunity to deepen our already strong relationship, which was worth over £24 billion last year. We are determined to grow that, creating jobs in every corner of the country, including in whisky distilleries across Scotland, on which 150% of tariffs and taxes must currently be paid in India.

The Republic of India has a respected independent legal system, and that will form part of the basis of the FTA between the UK and India. The Secretary of State will be aware of my constituent, Jagtar Singh Johal. What importance do the Minister and the Government place on a well-functioning legal system that respects human rights and the dignity of the individual when progressing free trade negotiations with states such as the Republic of India?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he says, and he has raised this issue with me in the past. Her Majesty’s Government are committed to working with the Government of India to resolve longstanding and complex consular cases such as this. The Foreign Secretary met the hon. Gentleman and the family of his constituent on 9 June, and she committed to continuing to raise those concerns with the Indian authorities. Our strong ties with India benefit British prosperity and security, and vice versa, but we are clear that increased trade need not come at the expense of our values.

UK Exports to Ukraine

Since 22 February, the Export Support Service has supported over 400 businesses and individuals wishing to export to Ukraine. To support British businesses, the Department for International Trade has expanded its Export Support Service to act as a single point of enquiry for businesses and traders with questions relating to the situation in Ukraine and Russia. The Department will continue to support business and traders during this period. Having a dedicated export support team ready to help at the end of the phone will help businesses to access the information they need at any time. Indeed, the Department runs Britain’s system of export controls and licensing. The export control joint unit is expediting urgent export licence applications for Ukraine.

The British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union is honoured to be hosting a delegation of Ukrainian MPs to Parliament today; I will share that information with them. For Ukraine, the big issue in exports is getting grain out of the blockaded port of Odesa. What conversations is the Minister having with the World Trade Organisation to stop the illegal blockade?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Indeed, until Russia’s invasion in February, Ukraine was one of the largest exporters of grains and vegetable oils. Britain has developed a six-point plan for tackling food insecurity. We continue to work with international partners, including at the WTO, to find ways to resume grain exports from Ukraine to the countries who desperately need them, particularly in the developing world. The outcome that we want is to keep trade flowing and to keep prices down.

Will the Minister update the House on how liberalising tariffs on Ukraine has supported the flow of trade and, in turn, on how effective our sanctions have been against Russia?

On 10 May, Britain laid legislation to liberalise all tariffs on imports of Ukrainian origin. Those measures have reduced barriers faced by Ukrainian businesses and consumers in their time of need, making it easier to obtain essential goods and aid from Britain. In lockstep with our allies, we are introducing the largest and most severe economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced, with, for example, up to 60% of Russian foreign currency reserves currently frozen. Analysis shows that, as a result, Russia is heading for its deepest recession since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

We have all seen on television the widespread devastation in Ukraine caused by Russia, so we know that its path to reconstruction will be a long one. What steps are the Government taking in planning and support of future rebuilding efforts in Ukraine?

The United Kingdom is exploring how she can support the Ukrainian Government’s reconstruction efforts. There may be opportunities for British businesses to contribute with their skills, technology and ingenuity. To that end, I am delighted that, tomorrow, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), will host the Ukraine investment summit to bring together British companies who have expertise in reconstruction with Ukrainian decision makers to begin identifying opportunities for collaboration.

Trade Remedies Authority

The Trade Remedies Authority seeks to defend UK industries from unfair trade practices. It was established last year and has already begun a series of investigations and making recommendations to support businesses in sectors vital to the UK national interest.

Hydro, which produces aluminium extrusions at its Birtley factory in my constituency, is concerned that the final measures proposed by the Trade Remedies Authority will not protect it from imports from China and that they are nowhere near as strong as EU tariffs. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State meet me and Hydro to discuss the situation and how the proposed TRA decision will affect the company?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The provisional rates are based on the evidence that the TRA had gathered at that point in its investigation. Companies will have to pay provisional duties only if there is a decision to apply a definitive anti-dumping duty. The TRA was in Parliament last week, I think, willing to talk to Members of Parliament. It is always open to doing that, as well as to speaking directly with businesses, but I shall pass on her comments to the Secretary of State. She is not here today because of MC12—the World Trade Organisation’s 12th ministerial conference—but I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s concerns are passed on to her.

UK Food Exports: Promotion

The Department works with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to promote cheese exports in the middle east and China. We have dedicated cheese stands at trade shows in the middle east, such as Gulfood. We promote cheese through China’s social media. We operate “meet the buyer” events. For example, I was out in Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, and saw for myself how our Department’s people on the ground try to ensure that major supermarket chains have access to British cheese. We have over 100 specialists in food, beverage and agriculture, and newly appointed agri-commissioners in key markets to continue to boost this important sector.

Mr Speaker, I hope you and the whole House will agree with me when I say that the cheese produced by the farmers of the four nations of this great country is the best in the world. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] So, I want to hear that cheese is at the heart of our trade and export policy. Let us hear about the action being taken to ensure that more people in the middle east, China, India and across the world are eating our Great British cheese.

Let me reassure my right hon. Friend that the grand fromage in No. 10 Downing Street—[Hon. Members: “Groan!”] It was certainly a cheesy line. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he expects us to continue to push the export of food and beverage. It is working, because the UK’s cheese exports to the world were £565 million in 2021. Exports to China were £3.9 million in 2021, which is an increase of 3.9%. Exports to Saudi Arabia are up 53% and exports to the Gulf in general are up 16.2%. This is a British success story, which we will sell to the world.

Mr Vickers, you had Question 1. You cannot have two bites of the cherry, as much as I am tempted! I know you want to talk about great Lancashire cheeses, but unfortunately you cannot. Let us move on to Craig Tracey.

USA: Tariffs on Imports from UK

10. What steps her Department is taking to encourage the US Administration to lift tariffs on imports from the UK. (900500)

On 1 June, section 232 tariffs on imports of UK steel and aluminium products were lifted. We have also secured the lifting of the long-standing US ban on the import of British beef and lamb.

The Minister is doing excellent work to help pave the way for UK businesses to do more trade in the US, and lifting tariffs is just one of the ways we can do that. Will she set out what more the Government can do to support our leading service sectors, as well as help our small and medium-sized enterprises to get their foot in the door?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. In addition to a free trade agreement, which will assist us on tariffs and those kinds of barriers, we are pursuing a twin-track approach with US states. That will help our service sector in particular. We are also looking at the mutual recognition of qualifications in accounting, auditing, legal services and so on. Next week, we are holding a UK-US SME dialogue in Boston to help us open up procurement possibilities for companies that would find it difficult to seek out those opportunities.

Covid-19 Vaccines: Global Access

11. What steps her Department plans to take to help secure an agreement at the World Trade Organisation on ensuring global access to covid-19 vaccines. (900501)

Negotiations on the response to the covid-19 pandemic are taking place at the World Trade Organisation’s 12th ministerial conference this week. Although I cannot comment on live negotiations—and they are very live today—the UK is seeking a comprehensive multilateral declaration addressing the trade policy issues that will make a real difference to global access to vaccines.

I would like to have my say! Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I think there is broad agreement across the House that the world will not fully defeat covid until its vaccination levels are the same as those we have been very fortunate to get through the NHS. Will the Minister go further and give more detail on what we are asking for in those negotiations? She was quite brief in what she said.

The right hon. Lady’s question is very timely. The negotiations are going on as we speak, so I do not want to comment on those live negotiations. She will know that we firmly believe that having strong intellectual property rights is key to ensuring that investment is going into the science base and that these products and vaccines will continue to be developed. We need that to happen, as well as to ensure that there is equity and that the world can make use of these amazing products.

Perhaps the reason that the Minister of State does not want to give any more detail is that in Geneva this week the Secretary of State has actually been leading efforts to water down or block any deal on access to covid medicines. I gently ask the Minister of State this: with so few people in developing countries having had their first covid vaccine, why are Ministers so determined to prevent some of the richest companies across the globe from giving the poorest people in the world the tools they need to stop transmission and save lives?

That is a ridiculous mischaracterisation of this country’s stance. We are one of the largest donors to the covid advance market commitment, which is ensuring that the vaccine is being rolled out in 92 developing countries. We are at the forefront of that effort. What the Secretary of State is trying to do is ensure that investment in the science base that created these vaccines remains strong. We need to do both of those things if we are going to vaccinate the world.

Trade: UK and California

Across the US, we are unlocking barriers for business at state level, while also engaging at the federal level. There is huge potential for growing trade in California, and I have visited California three times as part of the Department for International Trade stateside tour.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but as California is the fifth largest economy in the world, will she redouble her efforts and, in particular, give us a timescale for securing a memorandum of understanding with the state of California similar to that which she successfully negotiated with Indiana?

We are currently talking to about 25 states with regard to memorandums of understanding, including California. Larger economy states will take longer than smaller economies to arrive at the final MOU. We think that within the first eight we will have some super-economy states, including Texas. California will be a little way off, but I hope to conclude a large number of these MOUs by the end of this year, and we expect to sign further in the coming weeks.

The UK Government, as we have heard, are in talks with 25 individual US states, in the hope of establishing tailored free trade agreements. I believe that the Cabinet has set California and Texas in its immediate sights. If the UK Government have no qualms in entering into trade agreements with sub-state actors such as those US states and do not think that that violates US sovereignty, why do they oppose the Scottish Government entering into their own free trade negotiations?

This argument, I am afraid, is a false one, and it has also been perpetrated with regard to the Australia deal. The structures and kinds of regulations and laws that we are talking about are not equivalent. In Australia’s case, we are not talking about law or EU retained law; we are talking about guidelines that sit at state level. Obviously, the MOUs that we are agreeing with US states are not free trade agreements in terms of tariffs; they talk about our regulation, mutual recognition of qualifications and all of those things. Within those MOUs, we are actually doing partnerships between particular locations of the UK, which could include the devolved nations. Northern Ireland has such an MOU with other parts of the US, and I encourage the Scottish Government to get on board, because there would be massive advantages to people in Scotland if they did so.

I commend my right hon. Friend’s progress in her discussions with California, but she will know that many leading companies have left California for Texas because of that state’s low-tax, light-touch, pro-growth regulation. Will she update the House on the progress that she is making in her discussions with Texas? What lessons has she learned and passed on about the scope for regulatory reform in this country?

There is massive scope for such reform, which is one reason why we are pursuing this agenda. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that business is seeking out business-friendly states in the United States. There is now some competition to secure MOUs with us, and we are going after states that are really open for business and open to bringing people, ideas and money together to solve the world’s problems. Texas will be a trailblazer state; we have signed with Indiana; and Oklahoma, the Carolinas and others are really pushing the agenda forward. There are massive potential benefits for us, and for the United States too.

Export Opportunities: International Markets

13. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on measures to support companies to exploit export opportunities in international markets. (900505)

Our export strategy and export support service have cross-Whitehall support. The “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign will help to reach more than 67 million consumers, buyers and business leaders in 24 key markets. Our nine trade commissioner regions, our 40 Prime Minister’s trade envoys and our international market advisers are all helping businesses to exploit major market openings through our free trade agreements.

In the light of recent price hikes on fuel and ambitious net zero targets, seaport connectivity and infrastructure which allow goods, especially perishable items, to travel quickly are vital to businesses that export or wish to do so. With hundreds of thousands of jobs reliant on accessing the European market, does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government should make serious strategic efforts to re-establish a direct ferry link for freight between Scotland and mainland Europe? That would also provide resilience for international trade, given the ongoing pressure on ports in the south-east of England.

The hon. Gentleman is passionate about seeing ferry services restored from Scottish ports to mainland Europe, and he is absolutely right. Although it is very much a devolved issue, I am more than happy to encourage the Scottish Government to pursue it. It is a genuine issue, because the ability to build additional routes into the UK for freight builds resilience into the market and helps us to alleviate pressure points, particularly in moments of disruption across the straits. Importantly, as the hon. Gentleman says, it helps to reduce the carbon miles for haulage firms as they take goods from the straits to Scotland.

Exports to European Markets

Our export support service provides businesses with tailored support for exporting to Europe and beyond. Businesses are connected to our excellent array of support services such as the UK Export Academy and our trade show programme. We are operating bilateral partnerships to open up markets and overcome market access barriers. There is currently an eight-week consultation on an enhanced FTA between the UK and Switzerland. Those are just some of the measures that we can take to help businesses to export to European markets.

Research published yesterday shows that UK exports to the EU fell by £12.4 billion, or 15.6%, in the first six months of last year. I have seen that at first hand in my Ogmore constituency: businesses are being left with no option but to set up legal entities and warehouses within the EU in order to export. That is understandable, given the barriers that they face, but it results in jobs being moved away from the UK. Will the Minister commit to getting back around the table to reduce the costs and red tape that businesses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom are facing when exporting to the EU?

I have to say that I do not recognise that data. The Office for National Statistics data published yesterday showed that exports have continued to grow, month on month. For the past 12 months, exports to the UK were £650 billion. That is £53 billion up. Those are not my statistics, but those of the ONS. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he disagrees with the statistics, he should take that up with the ONS. These are the highest levels of exports to the EU since records began.

Given that the Prime Minister’s poor trade deal with the EU has already damaged exports and cost jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) says, the warnings from business groups this week that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill risks further damage to trade and investment ought to have rung very loud alarm bells across Whitehall. Will Ministers commit to publishing, before the Bill’s Second Reading, an analysis of its implications for British exporters and all those whose jobs depend on exports to European markets?

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of Scotland’s great cultural exports. It has its own specialist vehicle for touring, but Brexit red tape and cabotage rules mean that it is very difficult and expensive now for it to export its cultural wares in Europe. Can the Minister tell us what he is doing to remove the Brexit red tape that is tied around our musical industries?

I can tell the hon. Lady what I am doing about it. We appreciate that creative industries are massive exporters for the UK and they are highly valued. What the Department does across all sectors, not just creative industries, where we identify specific barriers resulting from our new trading arrangements, is have regular contact with our partners in-country. Sometimes it is about interpretation of the rules and sometimes it is the rules. What we do is sit down with our colleagues to work out whether we can find a practical solution for the benefit of both the UK and our European partners.

Topical Questions

The UK signed a trade and economic development memorandum with the state of Indiana on 27 May. The first such arrangement between the UK and an individual US state, it forms part of our twin-track approach to trading with the United States, seeking out ways to unlock barriers for business at state level in addition to our engagement at federal level. We are to sign further memorandums of understanding in the coming weeks.

May we have a cross-Government effort on post-Brexit reform to ensure that our regulation does more to facilitate competition and new market entrants? That is crucial not only to grow our domestic economy but to secure trade agreements and boost international trade.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. She is one of the authors of the appropriately named TIGRR report—the report of the taskforce on innovation, growth and regulatory reform—which pointed to some great ideas and focused on how we can ensure that our regulation is enabling, not a barrier to deepening trade ties and opening up opportunities for our citizens. In addition to our work on our domestic regime, we are, as I said earlier, working with other nations and getting our regulators to talk together, so that we can improve our international trade opportunities.

Mr Speaker, I echo your words about Jo Cox, whose ongoing legacy is testament to her remarkable dedication and compassion. Members across the House will be thinking of her family today.

Steel is a foundational industry for our economy, yet Members across the House will be aware of the difficulties that steelworkers have been through in recent years, from the US tariffs to the current cost of living crisis. The clock is ticking for the UK steel sector, with just 14 days left for the Secretary of State to make a decision on whether current trade safeguards remain in place. Will the Minister of State help to remove the uncertainty by urging the Secretary of State to make that decision today?

The Secretary of State needs no urging, but it is important that she is able to make the right decision on this. The steel safeguards reconsideration is ongoing. I know the deadline is looming. My right hon. Friend is carefully considering all the information that has been presented to her. Obviously, we expect a decision very shortly. We understand its importance to the steel sector, both producers and end users.

To say that a decision is expected shortly simply is not good enough. To ensure that this vital industry can survive, Ministers must stop dragging their feet and act urgently to safeguard the steel sector. Jobs and livelihoods in our communities are at risk. Labour backs UK steel. Does the Minister of State not accept that the reality is that, with time passing, Ministers are too busy propping up the Prime Minister to act decisively for the people?

With regard to the right hon. Member’s last comment, it is always a good indication that we do not have to look at the ONS statistics to know that the trade numbers are going the right way when the Opposition spokesman wants to ask questions that are not related to trade. This Secretary of State has done a huge amount to support the steel and aluminium industries of the UK, not least in managing to renegotiate the decision on section 232 tariffs. She will continue to do that and she will make an announcement on the safeguarding issue very shortly.

T2. As the UK decarbonises our economy to deliver net zero, it is vital that a carbon border adjustment mechanism is implemented to prevent carbon leakage to other parts of the world, to ensure that our own domestic producers are not undercut and to create jobs. Will my right hon. Friend provide an update on the Government’s work to deliver the mechanism, particularly with regard to international co-operation with the EU and the US? (900512)

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. We recognise that the risk of carbon leakage is a very real one, and on 16 May we announced our intention to consult on a range of possible mitigation options, including product standards and a carbon border adjustment mechanism. We are working with our international partners and we are clear that any policies we consider will have to fit in with other UK priorities, which include the cost of living, economic growth, and our commitment to the World Trade Organisation, free and fair trade and the needs of developing nations.

According to Action Aid, the UK’s position on trade and women’s rights has yet to be set out through a clear, comprehensive UK trade strategy. Further to this, Action Aid has also accused the UK Government of taking a quick delivery approach to securing free trade agreements. In the SNP, however, we have committed to adopting a feminist foreign policy in an independent Scotland, and this work is being undertaken. In their current and future trade deal negotiations, will the UK Government commit to conducting gender-specific impact assessments of its free trade deals, not just economic impact assessments? Will the Department commission an independent statutory body to conduct these gender-just impact assessments?

I am delighted to be able to confirm that Britain is committed to creating a global trade policy that ensures that women have the same opportunities from trade as men, and that women worldwide can benefit from trade as a route to prosperity. That reflects a core element of this Government’s modernising trade agenda. We recognise that women face varied and disproportionate barriers to trade in some areas, and that they are underrepresented among entrepreneurs and businesses that export, and we will continue to do more to ensure that everyone benefits from global trade.

T5. My constituents in beautiful Hastings and Rye are concerned about the environment and climate change, but they are also aware that our local businesses need to expand their trade exports across the globe to benefit from post-Brexit freedoms. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to tackle climate change through trade policy? (900516)

Last month the Secretary of State set out priorities for green trade, both in the global green transition and in maximising opportunities for the UK by driving global action on trade and the environment multilaterally through our engagement in the G7 and the World Trade Organisation while strengthening bilateral co-operation through our free trade agreement agenda. By 2030, low-carbon industries could generate up to £170 billion-worth of UK exports. For example, UK Export Finance’s climate change strategy commits it to achieving net zero across its portfolio and operations by 2050. In 2021, UKEF provided £3.6 billion-worth of support for sustainable projects, an increase of 50% on the previous year.

T3. This morning we have heard some frankly staggering attempts to present a dreadful UK-EU trade context as some kind of triumph, but that simply will not wash with my constituents who are struggling with increased red tape when exporting to EU member states. Rather than building stronger trade links with our closest neighbours, Ministers are now ripping up the agreement they negotiated and risking a trade war with the EU. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve trading links with Europe and to end disruption for businesses? (900514)

I remind the hon. Lady of the trader support service and the export support service, which are there to provide bespoke support to businesses. I encourage her to put them in touch with her constituents.

I am afraid the figures do not bear out what the hon. Lady is saying. The increase in goods exports to the EU, to which the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) alluded, has in part been driven by an 8.1% increase in exports from the UK to the EU in April compared with March. We are bouncing back from the pandemic and the difficulties as we changed our border and left the EU. The country is improving on that front. Where issues remain, whether for the hon. Lady’s local businesses or for the Northern Ireland protocol, we are determined to resolve them.

T6. Many of my constituents work in the nearby Port Talbot steelworks, located just outside my Bridgend constituency. Will my right hon. Friend give an assessment of the impact on the UK steel sector of removing US tariffs on UK steel? (900517)

I thank my hon. Friend for all his work to champion the steel industry. The 500,000-tonne annual quota secured for steel exporters is almost double the annual volume of UK steel exports to the US between 2018 and 2019, and it provides a significant opportunity for the UK industry to increase its supply to US customers.

T4. According to the latest figures from the Food and Drink Federation, despite the Minister’s earlier remarks, UK food and drink exports to the EU in the first quarter of 2022 were still £600 million lower than in the first quarter of 2019. Given the continual shortfall in post-Brexit trade with our largest trading partner, does she think embarking on a wholly unnecessary trade war is wise? If not, what will she do to avert it? (900515)

The statistics I quoted are from the Office for National Statistics. Across all goods there is a marked improvement, but we want to do more in the food and drink sector. That is why we are putting in place bespoke food, drink and agriculture attachés around the world to ensure our farmers and producers have more opportunities in global trade.

A trade deal with Israel would slash red tape and increase investment opportunities for both the UK and Israel. What progress have the Government made in securing a bilateral free trade deal with our close ally?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend raises this issue because, of course, our trade and partnership agreement was originally signed as one of the first continuity agreements back in 2019, but the Prime Minister announced last year that we would begin talks with Israel on an enhanced and improved UK-Israel free trade agreement. We have had a consultation, and I look forward to taking that work forward to boost our trade and investment relationship and to make sure the further ambitions of both nations are secured.

T7. Since Brexit, many UK companies have stopped exporting to the EU altogether, whatever the Minister is trying to sell us. The situation has become even worse for many of my small businesses in Bath since the closure of the SME Brexit support fund. Will the Government consider introducing a new version of that fund? (900518)

I would direct the hon. Lady’s businesses to contact the export support service, which provides practical assistance in overcoming particular issues. On top of that, we also have the internationalisation fund, the shared prosperity fund and the trade access programme. Picking on one pot that is no longer available misses the point. A whole range of financial support pots are available to businesses. If she would like directions to those pots, I am more than happy to write to her.

Obviously, we have agreed an enormous number of trade agreements, including several from scratch. We have a new export strategy and more support for British business; we have a new export finance mission; we are an Association of Southeast Asian Nations dialogue partner; we have a voice back at the World Trade Organisation; we have created the Trade Remedies Authority, to help support our own economic interests; we have set our own global tariff regime; we have streamlined nearly 6,000 tariff lines, lowering costs for business, and scrapped thousands of unnecessary tariff variations; we are creating a single trade window; we will have the most effective border in the world by 2025; and Mr Speaker will be very pleased to hear that we are bringing forward measures to ensure that cat fur products are not allowed to be traded. All this is in addition to blue passports and the prospect of the crown stamp on a pint of English beer.

T8. A recent London School of Economics report has found that between the end of 2019 and September 2021 UK-EU trade barriers led to a 6% increase in food prices in the UK. Will Ministers start being truthful and admit that the soaring prices are being caused not by the war in Ukraine but the Government’s post-Brexit trade agreement, which is causing so much hardship for my constituents in Glasgow? (900520)

The hon. Lady will know that work in government is looking at our global tariff and our tariff regime, with specific reference to ensuring that we are helping on the cost of living issues, which are really affecting our constituents. Leaving the EU has enabled us not only to make those decisions, but to treat developing nations with better preferences on tariffs, helping their economies as well as our own.

We heard a lot in the reply to an earlier question about exports of cheese. What initiatives are the Government planning to extend the export market for seafood? My constituency and neighbouring Grimsby are major centres for excellent seafood.

The Food and Drink Federation reported last month that food and drink exports are showing strong recovery as they get back up to pre-covid levels. Some of the specific actions we are taking include the creation of a new food and drink export council; this is between the Department and the sector, so that we continue the collaboration. We have also announced a new £1 million export fund to support our world-class seafood exporters, and held food and drink spring export showcases in the UK and overseas. I also urge my hon. Friend to contact me and I will arrange a briefing with our trade commissioner for China, where seafood exports are absolutely booming.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda is an excellent opportunity to promote trade with the Commonwealth. As chair of the all-party group on Africa, I am well aware of the important role that diaspora communities can play in growing trade, where familial and friendship links are so important. Newcastle, like many cities and towns in this country, has a number of Commonwealth diaspora communities. What specific help can people in Newcastle expect from this Department to trade with the countries they, their parents or their grandparents may have come from?

I thank the hon. Lady for that important question. She will know that both import and export figures with regard to Commonwealth nations are increasing quite substantially. There are many schemes that both our Department and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have in place. Obviously the local enterprise partnership networks are also assisting with this.

When a group of us from the British-American Parliamentary Group visited California last month, we were much impressed by the work of our trade teams in Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, those teams would be able to be even more effective if they had more flexibility to employ local staff, in line with prevailing labour market rates, as filling vacancies is a problem. What will the Government do to enable them to do that?

We are doing several pieces of work on that, but one thing we are looking at in respect of our memorandums of understanding and our economic dialogues with individual states is the mutual recognition of qualifications. We are focusing on technical trades in particular, with legal, accountancy and audit, engineering and architecture being the trailblazers. This will not only help UK firms to win more business but help with the labour-market issues that are affecting businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.

How are Ministers planning to promote the Trade Remedies Authority to businesses in Scotland, to increase the awareness and take-up of its services where necessary?

They should follow the hon. Lady’s example: I know that she attended the session with the Trade Remedies Authority. It is incredibly important that we get the message out to businesses that the TRA is an independent body with which they can take up issues. I thank the hon. Lady for attending and for enabling me to say that at the Dispatch Box today.

There are significant opportunities for British exporters to the Gulf states that are members of the Gulf Co-operation Council, not least because we already export a lot and because the barriers for our exporters are greater than those for GCC exports to the UK. Will my hon. Friend update me on what progress is being made on achieving such a deal?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised the great opportunity there is with the Gulf Co-operation Council. The bloc is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and is a major trading partner of Britain, with something like £23 billion-worth of trade. We closed our public consultation some time ago and are raring to go on negotiations on an FTA with the GCC very soon.

Will the Minister outline what steps have been taken to solidify our technological partnership with Israel, in the light of the tremendous advances that come from that nation, and the potential that home tech companies have to expand if we can build relationships more effectively?

Israel is one of the middle east’s most dynamic and innovative economies and there is a great opportunity in tech in particular. It is not only a bilateral opportunity but a multilateral or plurilateral opportunity: I was recently in Brazil, which is interested in a three-way partnership between Brazil, the United Kingdom and Israel.