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Topical Questions

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 21 July 2022

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?

Order. These are topicals. Topicals are meant to let those people who did not get in earlier ask a question. They are about Back Benchers, not about Front Benchers indulging themselves at the expense of others. Secretary of State—briefly.

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.

T5. My constituency of Aylesbury has many brilliant businesses exporting their goods and services around the world. One example is Sterling Thermal Technology, which I visited recently and which manufactures bespoke heat exchangers. Many more would like to follow suit, so how can the Department help them to reap the benefits of Brexit and our new trade deals? (901213)

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.

T2. The Trade Remedies Authority has bizarrely recommended the dropping of anti-dumping duties on Chinese reinforcing steel bar, a move that will undermine UK manufacturers of the product and the whole industry. Will the Secretary of State call that in for investigation? (901208)

The opportunity for the TRA, as our independent adviser, to look at these issues is one that we have great respect for. As Members across the House will understand, we await its decision and we will look at that in due course.

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?

T3. Only one in 10 British firms trades overseas, and exports are falling. Many of my Bath businesses have suffered significantly as a result. What steps is the Department taking to increase exports with the EU, our closest neighbour and, in the past, our biggest trading partner? (901209)

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.

T4. There was cross-party agreement during the urgent question earlier this week that Parliament has not been given the opportunity to properly scrutinise, debate or vote on the Australia trade deal, despite assurances from the Government that time would be made for debate. I heard the Secretary of State’s response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). What assurances can she give that future trade agreements will make it to the Floor of the House for debate and a vote before they are ratified? (901212)

As I set out earlier, we have a robust process of transparency and we will continue to follow it as we bring more ratified free trade agreements to the House in due course.

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?

We have regular and ongoing discussions and a good relationship with all the devolved Administrations, but of course the trade policy programme is reserved to the UK.

The volume of the trade deals that we are hearing about is incredibly encouraging and shows the role that the UK has around the world. Will the Minister please update me on the trade deals with the Gulf?

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.