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Energy Sector: Trade Opportunities

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 3 November 2022

1. What steps her Department is taking to increase trade opportunities for the UK energy sector. (902003)

The Government’s export strategy sets out how we aim to capture up to £170 billion of export sales estimated for 2030 in low-carbon sectors. At the green trade and investment expo earlier this week, we showcased the best renewable energy technologies and innovations that the UK has to offer. Over the last year, the Department for International Trade has supported £5 billion-worth of exports across energy and infrastructure sectors.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place, and I am grateful for her reply. With 50% of the UK’s offshore wind fleet anchored off the East Anglian coast, local businesses have acquired a unique set of skills, knowledge and expertise that should be promoted abroad, so as to increase trade opportunities. A case in point is the memorandum of understanding between the New Anglia local enterprise partnership and Virginia Beach in the US. I would be most grateful if my right hon. Friend could confirm that a national framework is in place to ensure that we make the most of these great opportunities.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue and highlighting the good work that DIT is doing. He will be pleased to know that in 2020—the latest figures available—the UK exported £821 million-worth of offshore wind products, with the help of DIT overseas and sector teams. We have a plan in place to carry out promotions, and work is ongoing to continue to build the UK’s extensive export offer and maximise economic value. My hon. Friend will also be pleased to know that in and around his constituency of Waveney, DIT is supporting Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth in the build-out of Iberdrola and Vattenfall’s projects, which are developing capability to export low-carbon technology globally.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting the Foreign Minister from the Maldives. Like many small island states, it would very much benefit from UK support when it comes to renewable energy; it is just not in a position to do that itself. It would also benefit from the lifting of tariffs on tuna, which I hope the Secretary of State is aware of. What support can we give small island states such as the Maldives?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We have a developing countries trading scheme, which we use to assist small countries that are not able to take some of the opportunities that larger, more developed economies can take. I know that Foreign Office Ministers have been having conversations with Ministers from the Maldives, and I am pleased to see that the engagement is extensive. We will do all we can, and I am happy to have conversations on the best way to assist it in reducing tariffs and increasing trade between our countries.

The green industrial revolution can seed jobs across the north of England. Will my right hon. Friend say, particularly in advance of COP27, what support is available for small manufacturers in places such as Rossendale and Darwen to ensure that they can access our overseas networks, to push international trade beyond the shores of Lancashire?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. That is one of the things we are promoting during International Trade Week. We have a 12-point export plan, to do precisely what he described. Just this week, I have met export champions across the UK, who have been showing the ways that we can expand our export networks into other countries. I am happy to provide him with more information on what the manufacturing sector in and around his region can do to take advantage of that.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and wish her well in all that she does. I welcome greater trading opportunities for the energy sector. We must also be aware of the need to self-source and provide our own energy, to be self-sufficient. Has she had the opportunity yet to evaluate nuclear energy options for regions such as Northern Ireland and the ability to then increase trade with other nations?

The short answer to that is no, primarily because that would be a competency of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but I would very much like to hear more about the trade opportunities that the hon. Gentleman has identified, which DIT can support in conversations with BEIS, to facilitate those sorts of plan.

On behalf of His Majesty’s Opposition, I welcome the Secretary of State to her position on her first outing. The Government have committed to reaching net zero by 2050, but they continue to approve new licences for oil and gas projects. Projects approved before August 2023 could be protected from being stopped under a revised energy charter treaty. We know that other countries have been sued under the treaty when they tried to close down fossil fuel projects under their net zero commitments. How would the Government prevent that from happening in the UK under a revised energy charter treaty?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She should know that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes that those projects are consistent with our transition to net zero. She will know that gas is a transition fuel, so it is not possible for us to get to net zero by cutting off gas completely. We need to ensure that the explorations that are taking place are in line with our strategy; I believe that they are. Responsibility for the energy charter treaty lies with BEIS, but we lead on investment provisions and investor-state dispute settlements. We continue to see it as having an important role in these policies and the UK’s trade policy.