The Secretary of State was asked—
Free Trade Agreement: India
India is a dynamic, fast-growing trade partner, and a free trade agreement offers the opportunity to deepen our already strong relationship, which was worth £24.3 billion in 2021. Round 5 of trade agreement negotiations began on Monday 18 July and will continue until the end of next week. We have already closed 12 chapters and continue to work hard to reach a balanced and comprehensive agreement. We are in detailed negotiations and discussions on texts now and are confident in our progress with India, as we work towards a comprehensive FTA.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Clearly, doing a trade deal with India is complex and difficult. The European Union, for example, has been trying to do one for 25 years without success, so I wish her and her team well on negotiations. Clearly, it will be challenging to achieve it by Diwali, but I know that she is committed to doing so. Will she set out, for the benefit of the House, the benefits to the UK and to India of the free trade deal she is undertaking?
Our priority in talks has always been to address the significant barriers that businesses face in exporting to India. In the past decade, UK services exports to India have increased by 60% in current prices, totalling £3.6 billion in 2021. However, the reality is that India’s barriers to services trade are still relatively high compared with those of other trading partners, so this FTA will provide a great opportunity to address those barriers and support the UK’s service sector, in particular, to do business in India’s growing markets.
The Secretary of State must know that Huddersfield and West Yorkshire are the beating heart of the manufacturing sector; so many firms are good at exporting, and have expertise and a history of trade with India, but they are still finding huge barriers to any exporting effort they make. Can her Department not really step up the action to help, especially for the small and medium-sized enterprises?
As always, the hon. Member is a champion of businesses in his constituency. He is exactly right: those barriers to trade are still difficult, and the free trade agreement brings us the opportunity to work with India to strip away those market access barriers. We are listening, obviously, through the consultation process. On the FTA process, at the beginning of the year we asked businesses to talk to us and share their own experiences and the particular areas where they wanted us to negotiate reductions in barriers. I hope that we are doing that. I would be very happy to hear directly from the hon. Member’s businesses whether they have particular areas in mind. We are looking to reach a broad and comprehensive agreement that will strip away many of those market access barriers, be they tariff areas around goods or, indeed, those very many areas of service sector activity, which will benefit both sides. We have some highly mutually compatible business opportunities to work on together.
Trade with the EU
This Government continue to seek an excellent trading relationship with our former EU partners, just as we do with other international markets. Hon. Members will be pleased to note that goods exported to the EU for May 2022 were over 17% higher than the 2018 monthly average, so trade here is already increasing. To increase exports, we need to get more British businesses exporting, and to do that the Department has initiatives such as the Export Academy and the export champions scheme that help to give them the knowledge and practical help that they need.
Research by the London School of Economics has found a huge drop in the number of trade relationships between UK businesses and the EU, with a 30% decrease in the variety of goods sold. That is a clear indication of the damage that the Government’s Brexit deal is doing to smaller businesses, which cannot afford the increased costs of administration. Will the Minister detail how many small and medium-sized enterprises applied to the Brexit support fund and how many were successful? May I also ask the Minister, on behalf of the small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency, where is the urgency to find solutions to enable SMEs to trade with our EU neighbours once again?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your welcome. I also thank the hon. Member for her question. Of course, she did not support the EU trade agreement that this Government put in place, so it is quite rich for her now to turn around and say that we are not increasing exports. In my previous answer, I talked about the many interventions that this Government are making, including internationalisation and the Brexit support fund of £38 million that is going to small and medium-sized enterprises to help them overcome the barriers that the protectionist EU puts in place.
I, too, welcome the Minister to what I hope is a long and fruitful career. My question is about services, not goods. Our biggest export is the English language—it is the lingua franca of the world, isn’t it?—but the language schools that teach teenagers over the summer months are collapsing at quite a scary rate. Only seven out of 20 remain in Hastings, and there are three in Ealing, but before 2019 there were five. Will the Minister—whoever it is at any particular time—and their officials sit down with me and the trade bodies? They say that there has been an 80% drop in business, which is now going to Malta and Ireland. We can do better than this in global Britain. Can we sit down to talk about removing those things for this once lucrative—
Education is indeed one of the great opportunities, and the lingua franca of English is one of the benefits as we seek to do trade deals not just with our friends in Europe but across the whole world. I am very happy to talk to my colleagues in the Department for Education and between us respond to the hon. Lady.
As we look to the future, does my hon. Friend agree that it goes beyond the EU, as do the opportunities for trade around the world? From my constituency of Watford to the rest of the world, we have the opportunity to build industry and opportunity for everyone.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a champion of small business in his constituency. That is why it is so important that, as we seek to do trade deals such as the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership and those with the Gulf, India, Canada and many more, we have SME chapters and SME preference within them.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I join you in wishing Penny and Isabel well for the future. I also welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box.
I ask this question in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), who has covid. I am sure that the whole House will wish him a swift recovery. The tonnage of UK trade in food, feed and drink with both the EU and non-EU countries has fallen and has been steadily falling since 2019. Looking back at the record of this Government over the past three years, does the Minister accept that they have failed to make Brexit work?
I am sure Government Members wish the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) a speedy recovery as well.
Tonnage is, of course, only one measure. I note that, for the year to March, the value of British exports actually increased. [Interruption.] It will be a combination of growing markets, a growing number of exporters and a greater ability of exporters to obtain the price for their exports. That is what we on the Conservative Benches are focused on.
I, too, welcome the Minister to his place.
Thanks to Westminster’s disastrous hostile post-Brexit immigration policy, our lack of workers means that Scottish exports of fruit and vegetables to the European Union are down by 53% and of dairy and eggs by 33%. Given that both candidates for Prime Minister as well as, indeed, the Labour Leader have stated that they will not do anything about that, is it not time that the UK Government stood aside and gave the powers over immigration to the Scottish Government so that we can protect these businesses and their Scottish trade?
I am very happy to talk to my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about the access to skilled workers, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in thanking the Department’s Edinburgh-based team for its dedication to promoting the work of exporters from Scotland.
That answer will not give any comfort to those growers who are struggling at the moment. Of course, trade goes both ways, and our importing businesses are being hammered by long delays and increased costs. A single invoice shared with me by a small importer in Inverness, Oil and Vinegar, showed many new charges from the UK Government, running to many hundreds of pounds of additional costs. It contained separate lines for duty, admin fees and import custom fees, and the largest of all the costs was a curiously titled “Customs Add”. Does the Minister know how much the Treasury is raking in from these schemes? It must be vast sums. Will it call for any of it to be returned to those struggling businesses?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s pain in hearing of the friction presented to British firms in seeking to do trade internationally. That is why Scotland remaining in this great Union is a great advantage to British businesses that want a single one-stop shop. If he has not already availed himself of the Export Support Service’s helpline, I would be very happy to connect his businesses to that.
Free Trade Agreements: Workers Rights
Her Majesty’s Government have been clear that there will be no reduction in British labour protections in signing up to new free trade deals. Our new agreements with Australia and New Zealand demonstrate that. We engage extensively with trade unions to make sure that the interests of workers are fully considered in our policy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has hosted trade unions, including the TUC, at the recent UK-US trade dialogues.
With the greatest of respect to the Minister, given the contrasts and contradictions in the Government’s approach around things such as the P&O ferry scandal and the recent events with the rail industry, can he tell us what guarantee he can provide to the House that the Government will not sail down the river the rights of working people in this country?
I would point to precedent. The United Kingdom has ratified all eight of the fundamental International Labour Organisation conventions. We continue to encourage our partners to do the same around the world. The agreements with Australia and New Zealand, as I said earlier, reaffirm our commitment to comply with the core international labour obligations that we are party to.
When I visited Washington DC with the British-American Parliamentary Group, I was told in no uncertain terms—I know that the Secretary of State had the same message at the Baltimore talks—that there could be no trade agreement with the United States that did not, first, protect workers’ rights and also reflect the workers’ voice. Will the Minister set out the detailed process by which he will ensure that British workers’ voices will shape the prospective deal with the United States and how those voices will be reflected throughout international discussions? I know that the Secretary of State’s predecessor met the American trade union movement. I think it is really important that British workers’ voices are reflected consistently in deals as well.
I thank the hon. Lady for the question and I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met the same bodies. We engage extensively with trade unions to make sure that the interests of workers are fully consulted in our trade policy. We have a trade union advisory group, the TUC is a part of our strategic trade advisory group and, of course, this Conservative side of the House represents the views of hard-working people across the country.
The Government are currently negotiating a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council. The majority of the Gulf countries do not meet basic international standards for workers’ rights, such as the right to unionise. Why on earth, therefore, did the Government drop human rights and the rule of law from their stated negotiation objectives?
We decide on future deals based on the potential benefit to our economy, economic trends and whether we can negotiate a quality agreement supporting the British people and the British national interest. Closer engagement is how we increase our influence around the world and support higher standards, including with countries that might have rights that differ from ours. The United Kingdom will not compromise on our high labour standards, and we will continue to work hard to maintain those standards through our free trade agreement programme.
UK Arms Exports: Transparency
We publish more licensing data than any other country. Yesterday, we published our annual report covering 2021. The data reveal that of 4,234 licensing decisions on standard individual export licences, 96.1% were issued, 1.5% were refused and, because of our sanctions on Russia and Belarus, 2.4% were revoked. The Government remain committed to openness on strategic export licensing to provide Parliament with the means to hold us to account.
In February, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs issued its biggest ever fine of £2.7 million for breach of the arms exports controls. HMRC has refused to publish any details so we do not know who was fined, the name of the company, the military goods exported or where they ended up. How does the Minister expect us to have any faith or confidence in our arms export controls when they are so shrouded in secrecy?
I heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), but the reality is that the changes to licensing criteria have reduced transparency and accountability. Can the Minister explain the rationale for changing Government guidance on granting licences from refusing a licence if there is a clear risk that items may be used in violation of international humanitarian law to if the Government determine there is a clear risk?
Export of UK Services
The Government are committed to promoting the UK’s world leading strengths in services. Latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that service exports were £316 billion in the 12 months to the end of May, an increase of 7% on the previous 12 months. The Government’s export strategy, published in November 2021 by the Secretary of State, recognises the importance of services and commits the Government to working with the sector in its implementation. That includes working with the CBI-led Trade in Services Council to understand and promote trade in services.
The Centre for Economic Policy Research has calculated that since Brexit there has been a 6% drop in service exports to the EU. Services are Scotland’s biggest export, so what, if anything, is the Department doing to stabilise service exports, never mind grow them? There is a real fear that the Government have no real plan for progress or change.
As we recover, we expect to see a continued increase in services exports. The hon. Member is right that Scotland is a significant exporter of services—worth more than £21 billion in 2020-21—making it the third largest exporting region in the UK. I wish all of our Scottish service exporters well, and it is the work of this Department to try to continue to grow that.
Barriers to Global Trade
Removing trade barriers boosts our exports to new and familiar markets around the world. We have resolved 396 barriers around the world in the past two years, and just 45 of the 192 barriers we resolved in the last financial year could be worth around £5 billion to businesses across our country. If we can remove the next 100 trade barriers on our most wanted list, it has the potential to deliver export opportunities for British businesses worth around £20 billion. As one example, last month we removed barriers in Mongolia that prevented the export of British poultry and fish, opening up a market worth £10 million.
Many of my North Devon farmers and the National Farmers Union are concerned about food imports, but given the quality of our British food and drink, and the vast global market for our superior produce, what support has my hon. Friend’s Department put in place to promote and help farmers export around the world?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We see real potential for British food and drink exports to grow, particularly in high-growth markets where the middle classes are expanding—notably the Asia- Pacific region. We work closely with farming and food organisations, such as the NFU, to deliver a practical range of export support for farmers and food businesses. We are removing trade barriers globally, as I have referenced, including the ban on British beef in the Philippines, opening up a market worth £375 million a year to British farmers. We are expanding our overseas network of more than 100 agriculture, food and drink trade advisers to include eight new dedicated attachés, who will focus on unlocking trade barriers for our great British farmers.
What a load of bollards the Government are putting in the way of British trade with other parts of the world, and in particular with the European Union. Historically, loads of British orchestras, theatre groups, ballet groups and bands have toured easily across the whole of the European Union, and endless Committees have been told by Ministers that it is all being sorted out. The truth is that they are now prevented from taking that British export across the European Union. When is any one of these Ministers actually going to do something and get it sorted?
Exports to the EU: Devolved Nations
The Department is delivering prosperity through trade and investment to all parts of the United Kingdom. In addition to UK-wide initiatives such as the UK Export Academy for smaller enterprises, we have established teams in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and I hope in my role to be visiting them over the coming months. Those teams will bring business support closer to businesses in the nations and work in partnership with devolved Administrations.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but it is clear to farmers across Scotland, nowhere more so than in Angus, that Brexit has made a great many things harder and more expensive, made nothing any easier and created no more opportunity whatever. [Interruption.] That will be the same in Banff and Buchan, by the way. With regard to Australia, and without reference to whisky or salmon, what dedicated analysis has his Department undertaken that evidences net increases for Scotch beef and lamb exports to Australia in quantitative, not rhetorical terms? If he cannot say, will he write to me with that data, please?
I note that Invest in Angus, based in the hon. Member’s constituency, estimates that food and drink is worth more than £200 million to the Angus domestic economy. We are supporting farmers and food producers across Scotland, including in Angus, and that is one of the reasons why we are seeking opportunities for greater agricultural exports through the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and the Indian trade deal, and with the Gulf.
I am sure that James Withers from Scotland Food & Drink will be interested to hear what the Minister has said, because James has said:
“Brexit has made absolutely nothing better and it’s made a lot of things worse.”
Does the Minister share my concern—I hope he does—that the candidates in the current Tory leadership race are simply not being up front about the mess we are in because of Brexit? They need to listen carefully to businesses and make exporting easier, instead of pretending that Brexit is working for business in Scotland and across the UK, because clearly it is not.
Welsh food and drink exports have no better showcase than the Royal Welsh show—the largest agricultural show in Europe—which concludes in my constituency today. It has been fantastic to see visitors from right around the world back on the showground. I want to pay particular tribute to Steve Hughson, who is stepping down as the show’s chief executive after 10 very successful years. Does my hon. Friend agree that agricultural shows are fantastically helpful for boosting our exports around the world?
SMEs: Trade with the EU
Small and medium-sized businesses make up a huge part of Britain’s economy, accounting for over 60% of employment and more than half of all turnover from the UK private sector. The Department for International Trade is doing all it can to help businesses overcome the barriers that the protectionist bloc of the European Union now imposes when consumers seek to buy goods from elsewhere in the world.
The only thing that Brexit has brought for many small businesses in Bath is increased costs, paperwork and border delays, as has been confirmed by the Public Accounts Committee—more barriers, not less. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. Will the Government please reintroduce the SME Brexit support fund, with a simplified application process and a significantly expanded remit?
I am proud of the endeavours of my colleagues and those in local enterprise partnerships up and down the UK in disbursing the £38 million internationalisation fund to support businesses as we go through some of the changes that result from leaving the European Union and seek opportunities elsewhere in the world. I will of course undertake to look at any way we can make it simpler for small businesses, in particular, to engage with the Department.
Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership
May I first say what a great pleasure it is to ask my right hon. Friend—and she will always be my friend—this question? Will she say—[Interruption.] Sorry, that was an emotional moment, Mr Speaker; I hope you will forgive me. Will she outline the real advantages that CPT—whatever the bloody thing is called—[Interruption.] Whatever the ruddy thing is called. Will should outline the benefits of membership, and will she perhaps also say what sort of difference it will make to our trading relationship with the United States, which is also a member?
I thank my very dear hon. Friend for that question. He is right to point to the benefits of joining this trading bloc: 99.9% of all UK goods are eligible for tariff-free access, it will increase wages in this country, and obviously it will help our relationships with other nations outside the bloc. The UK moving to the accession process will encourage and strengthen other like-minded free-trade nations around the world to co-operate and do more together, and to reform the World Trade Organisation.
Those very same benefits will also apply to Northern Ireland, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we are providing extra support to help with the particular export opportunities, including for services, that are so strong in Northern Ireland. We are determined not only with this accession, but with the other FTAs we are doing, that all businesses can benefit, because that is obviously our end goal.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for a fantastic, brave, clean campaign for the leadership of the Conservative party and to be Prime Minister.
As a passionate Brexiteer, does my right hon. Friend agree that being a force for good in the world for free trade is an absolutely honourable goal and one that the UK should promote at every opportunity?
I thank my right hon. Friend. I am amazed to find myself here this morning given my reported work ethic, but here I am.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the UK, a G7 nation, leaving the regulatory orbit of the EU is an international event. It gives us a huge opportunity, alongside nations like the United States, to set out our view of the world and of capitalism and to fight for the things we believe in.
Environmental campaigners have raised concerns that joining the CPTPP would put our deforestation commitments at risk because it drops generic trade tariffs. What assurances can the Minister provide that our trade deals will not put our environmental commitments at risk?
I would point to the forestry programmes that this nation has funded—some more than 30 years old—in parts of the world that are covered by this trading bloc. This country has an important history under successive Governments of protecting not only our own environment but that of other nations. I ask the hon. Lady to point those programmes out to any of her constituents who are concerned.
From swerving eight invitations to attend the International Trade Committee to avoiding bringing a debate with a vote to this Chamber before ratification, we have seen a truly shameless attempt from the Department for International Trade to dodge to any form of scrutiny of the trade deal with Australia. With the UK now negotiating membership of the CPTPP, I have a simple question: will the Minister promise that this House will be granted a full and timely debate before any deal is ratified—yes or no?
I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to set out any parliamentary business and timetable for any future trade agreements. We have clearly committed to a particular process. For my part, every time the International Trade Committee or other body of this House has asked me to go before it, I have. That is the attitude of the ministerial team, and we will continue to do that.
Australia and New Zealand FTAs: UK Food Sector
It has been revealed that when the Foreign Secretary was Secretary of State for International Trade she ignored advice from her officials that the Australia and New Zealand trade agreements would shrink our food and farming sectors. I think we can all agree that that is a disgrace—[Interruption.] I am glad someone got the joke. The food and farming sectors are already hurting due to severe labour shortages and rising costs, and these rushed trade agreements could be the final nail in the coffin. If the Foreign Secretary cannot be trusted to do the right thing for farmers, can she be trusted to run the country?
If the hon. Lady would like to write with the specific details, I am sure the Department will be able to provide a full answer to her assertions. The economic modelling was based on full employment, which does not reflect the change in employment between sectors and, critically, does not estimate jobs lost or gained in any sector. However, if she writes with the specific details, I am sure we can address that for her.
Increasing the volume and reach of British exports is at the heart of the Department’s export strategy. It includes a comprehensive set of support for exporters, combined with seeking trade deals in the areas of greatest opportunity internationally.
Tourism to the UK is our third-largest service export. I am sure the Minister, or at least the Secretary of State, will agree that the north-east is a fantastic place to visit and that we want to encourage visitors. In September 2020, the Government ended the VAT retail export scheme and the VAT shopping airside sales concession for airports, such as Newcastle airport. With the majority of visits including shopping as part of the trip, including shopping in Newcastle Metrocentre and, no doubt, Berwick, what discussions is the Minister having with the Treasury on that anomaly?
I assure the hon. Lady that it is not just the Secretary of State but the Exports Minister who agrees about the potential of the tourism economy. We on the Government Benches will do everything we can to make the most of that opportunity, just as we are with freeports, which we are able to establish by being outside the EU. I note that one of those freeports is in the north-east.
I welcome the Exports Minister to his place. I hope he will join his Front-Bench colleagues, both past and present, who have on many occasions come to Sedgefield to visit our outstanding export businesses. At last week’s Great Yorkshire show, I met Billy Maughan, one of my local farmers, and other members of the National Farmers Union, who talked to me about the opportunities from deals such as the India deal. It would be great if he could meet them to explore those opportunities further.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am asking this question on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Dame Nia Griffith), who is away on parliamentary business.
There is a concern among businesses that unlike its predecessor, the trade access programme, the current trade show programme will support a company only if it is exhibiting for the first time or venturing into new markets. We all know that marketing for export requires repeated efforts. There is evidence that there is now a drop in the number of UK exhibitors in some sectors, just when the Government are struggling to stimulate growth in the UK economy. Will the Minister now listen to businesses hoping to export, make the scheme more generous and widen the access criteria to allow businesses to benefit from the support by attending more than once?
As we seek to get more businesses exporting, the first step is clearly often the hardest, so it seems thoroughly reasonable to put the highest amount of support into helping businesses make that first step outside the UK. The trade show programme supports over 128 different overseas trade shows across 28 different markets. I will listen to the hon. Lady, and I have been meeting business organisations in my first few days in this role. We will make sure that the trade show programme, which is a great example of the Department supporting British businesses, remains fully supported.
Free Trade Agreements: Scrutiny
The Government are committed to effective scrutiny of trade agreements. We have put in place enhanced transparency and scrutiny arrangements for every stage of FTA negotiations. That includes publishing our objectives prior to talks, providing additional time for scrutiny at the end of the process and putting in place the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission to report on new agreements. We are delivering on those agreements. The Australia FTA has been available for scrutiny for seven months, enabling three Select Committees to take evidence and to report on the agreement prior to ratification.
We all know what Government undertakings in relation to trade agreements are worth, and it is not an awful lot. If the Secretary of State does not believe me, she can ask the farmers and crofters in my constituency. Is the breach of the undertaking on the trade agreement with Australia to be a one-off, or is it the start of a course of conduct?
As I set out, we have followed a broad and open process. There is no breach of any situation such as the right hon. Member suggests. The arrangements in place are robust. We want to make sure that as we go through the process—there will be enabling legislation for the Australia and New Zealand trade deals in the autumn—there will be an opportunity for colleagues who wish to raise issues. We know that this process is effective. I talk to fellow Trade Ministers around the world who work with us and it is interesting that they consider our process to be very robust and very inclusive, both at a parliamentary level and with the business community.
Our exports strategy, coupled with our trade, investment and foreign policy, are a potent combination. For our brilliant UK exporters to reach the people and places where they can be most effective, we need to be able to build closer relationships around the globe, so my Department has launched our Government-to-Government capability. We can now bring industry experience and UK support to provide tailor-made solutions around the world. G2G is a powerful new tool for the UK. It better connects our prosperity, trade and diplomacy agendas and opens exciting new possibilities for our businesses. We are working closely with our Ukrainian counterparts to get UK businesses delivering crucial repairs to bridges, modular homes and railways before the winter sets in. New tools such as our G2G capability will allow us to achieve more in Ukraine and globally, ensuring that UK trade acts as a force for good in the world.
We have heard today about the value of agricultural shows across our United Kingdom, not least in my constituency where we had the New Deer show last weekend and we have the Turriff show, the largest two-day agricultural show in Scotland, at the end of the month. They provide a huge opportunity to showcase the wonderful Scottish food and drink that we have to offer. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what DIT support is available directly to the fabulous Scottish food and drink producers, and what conversations she has had with the Scottish Government to make sure that that support is made directly available to those producers?
We are indeed hearing of the wonderful shows that go on across the UK through our summer months and I commend all Members to visit some if they can. Speaking as a north-east MP who occasionally pops across the border to enjoy some Scottish hospitality, the Scottish shows are as good as any others.
The DIT Scotland team are now based in Edinburgh; we established the new office last year. We have trade and investment expertise there dedicated to supporting Scotland’s businesses to grow through their exporting efforts. We also work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that all businesses in Scotland have access to DIT support and the full reach of the UK’s global network, including what has been set out by the new Minister responsible for exports—the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith).
We Opposition Members have long argued that the Government are not doing enough to support exporters. It is now clear that the former Minister, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), absolutely agrees. He argued that the trade access programme is underfunded and said of it, “We support too few shows, we don’t send enough business, our pavilions are often decent but overshadowed by bigger and better ones from our competitors.” He is absolutely right, is he not?
It was a pleasure to have the former Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), in the team; he has been a champion for growing our new tools. Brexit gave us opportunities to own our trade policy and to start to really champion and talk to our businesses about where they can find opportunities across the globe, whether for goods or services. We have a fantastic suite of tools in the export strategy, which we launched in November last year, and we can now really push on with that. As with everything, perhaps Labour Members can tell me where I can rapidly find a great deal more cash to make these measures much more effective. In the meantime, we have put together a fantastic fund that we will continue to use to encourage our businesses to trade.
The truth is that the Government have fallen behind woefully on their manifesto commitment to have 80% of UK trade covered by free trade agreements by the end of this year, and there is no comprehensive US trade deal in sight. Something has been going severely wrong. I welcome back the Minister for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), after her efforts in the Tory leadership contest, but the Secretary of State is far less complimentary about the right hon. Member’s efforts in the Department. She said:
“There have been a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful, and other ministers have picked up the pieces.”
Mr Speaker—[Interruption.] Conservative Members shout “Shameful” at me, but these are the Conservatives’ words about each other, not my words. The reality is that it is the British economy that has been suffering. Our projected growth is the lowest in the G7 apart from sanctioned Russia. Is not the truth that trade policy is yet another Tory failure?
I have a fantastic team of Ministers, which is exactly why we are able to do all that we can to make sure that our UK businesses have access to UK Government support to get their fantastic goods and services out across the world. We are rolling out the FTA programme at incredible pace by the rest of the world’s standards, which we are fêted for, and we will continue to do that with the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, India, the Gulf states, Switzerland and Israel—all ongoing at the moment.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, who has a strong reputation on the Conservative Benches as a champion of the many excellent businesses in his constituency, including Sterling Thermal Technology, whose products are not just sold around the world, contributing to the path to net zero, but used, I note, in our own Hinkley Point C. One of the benefits of leaving the European Union is that we can now tailor trade deals to suit the needs of British businesses as well as prioritising the markets that are of most interest to exporters.
The seafood processing sector based in my constituency and neighbouring Grimsby is anxious to increase its exports. Will the appropriate Minister meet me and representatives of the industry so we can push forward with a new initiative?
I am sorry to hear that the exports of the hon. Lady’s local businesses are falling. That is not the general experience in the UK; the value of exports was up 9% in the 12 months to the end of March. If she would like, I will write to her with the comprehensive set of measures that I hope she and other hon. Members will take the summer months to promote to small businesses in their constituencies.
I have always been struck by the quiet diligence with which the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), does her job. Can she please update me on progress on signing individual deals with US states, which my farmers in Rutland and Melton are particularly interested in?
This week we have continued our negotiations with Utah; yesterday, we also signed the second state-level memorandum of understanding with North Carolina, which will be based on green growth. We are currently negotiating with half of all US states. The first eight deals that we will sign will cover 20% of the US economy and that will open up procurement, enable mutual recognition of qualifications, and enable British businesses to take a larger share of exports of both goods and services.
Topically, the Government have announced yet another deal with the American states, in no small part due to the allegedly “work-shy” efforts of the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). Think what she could achieve if her focus was actually on the job!
The economies of many of these American states are larger than those of European countries. Texas is the 12th largest economy in the world. Can my right hon. Friend give us a cumulative total of the sort of economies that we are dealing with in these trade deals and that are likely to be signing up over the next few months? I think that total is considerable, thanks to her efforts.
States such as California and Texas are super-economies: if they were nations, they would be the seventh and eighth largest economies in the world. We hope that Texas will be in the first eight deals that we sign. In addition to the potential for their economies and ours, this is also about bringing together smart people, money and ideas to solve problems that we are all grappling with. Texas in particular is doing a huge amount on fintech blockchain; the synergy between what it is doing and the innovation in the City of London could be really special.
Small businesses in my constituency wanting to export to the European Union tell me that they have to fill in customs declarations of up to 70 pages. Why are the Government putting such barriers in the way of small business exports?
It is not at all the intention of the Government to put barriers in place; this Government are about knocking down barriers to export and unleashing the potential of small businesses across the United Kingdom to make the most of the opportunities not just in the European Union but in the rest of the world, as we have heard from Government Members.
Recently, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced enhanced free trade deal negotiations with our close allies and friends in the state of Israel. Will she set out for the benefit of the House the aims of those negotiations and what the benefits to the UK will be?
I thank my hon. Friend for his diligence in championing the opportunities from free trade with Israel and many other countries around the world, including India. As two like-minded partners with expertise in areas such as tech and innovation, we are very confident that we can agree an ambitious deal that will complement both economies and showcase our leading businesses, growing our trade even further than we already have today.
I was interested to learn from the Minister about the close relationship that Department for International Trade officials apparently enjoy with the Scottish Government—something that I suspect will be news to Scottish Ministers.
The Lords report on the Australia-UK trade deal criticised the fact that, despite the heavy impact of the deal on the food and drink sectors in the devolved nations, those nations have been shut out of negotiating the terms of that deal and no doubt future ones. Will the devolved nations be consulted from the outset and throughout negotiations during future trade deals, and will Ministers make Parliament aware of their views?
My hon. Friend is a great champion for businesses throughout his constituency of Watford, and they will want to seize the benefits of new trade deals, including with the Gulf Co-operation Council, a group of six countries that want to trade more with the United Kingdom. The GCC is already equivalent to the fourth largest trading partner with Britain, with total trade worth more than £33 billion last year. We are going to boost the economy even further to create jobs, increase wages and support levelling up throughout our country.
According to HMRC data, UK food exports to the EU fell by 19% in the 15 months following Brexit, at a cost of £2.4 billion. What steps are Ministers taking specifically to protect and promote our fantastic UK food businesses in future trade deals?
Of course, the aftermath of covid reduced trade of all kinds with every part of the world. This Government’s job was to protect businesses in the aftermath and is now to use our dedicated food and drink advisers across the Department’s offices to make sure the world understands the enormous opportunity for the high-quality produce produced not only in the hon. Member’s constituency but throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. You almost caught me off guard there, but I do have a question and it refers to Northern Ireland. I know that the Secretary of State is particularly keen to ensure that all the advantages that come out of any trade deals always follow down the line so that my local businesses, especially those in the farming sector, can take advantage of them. Will the Secretary of State confirm that we will always get that advantage?
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for making sure that the important voice of Northern Ireland was heard in DIT questions today. Northern Ireland remains at the heart of the UK and we will make sure that, in respect of all our trade deals and, indeed, in the work we do to reduce market-access barriers, our teams speak to businesses in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the UK. We are working to support them to make great British exports around the world.