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Topical Questions

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 3 November 2022

I am delighted that this week the Department is hosting our second International Trade Week. Trading around the world can be transformative for UK businesses, which is why, with more than 10,000 business registrations for about 123 events delivered by the Department and external partners, International Trade Week is the Department’s biggest single showcase for the global trading opportunities that are open to our businesses. It also marks one year since the launch of our Made in the UK, Sold to the World export strategy. Throughout the week, businesses have been able to make the most of key export strategy initiatives, such as advice from the export support service and expert support from the Export Academy.

We recently heard that negotiations to conclude a trade deal with India have stalled because of the comments made by the Home Secretary about migrants from that country—just another mess to lay at her door. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether she will ensure that the Home Secretary’s hardline opposition to migration will not harm our economic relationships?

It is not true that negotiations with India have stalled, either because of the Home Secretary’s comments or for any other reason. They are ongoing. What has changed is the deadline: as a result of my becoming Secretary of State, we are focusing on the deal and not the day, and that is the most important aspect. The Home Secretary is well within her rights to discuss migration issues, and her comments were not specific to the India trade deal. She has a responsibility for migration, and she is doing her job properly.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s interest in trade with Pakistan. When I visited the country—I was the last Trade Minister to do so—I observed the excellent co-operation that was taking place between businesses in the UK and Pakistan. Big investments by UK firms such as GSK in Karachi are key to the delivery of £3 billion-worth of trade. I am pleased to say that we will be formalising this relationship through a new ministerial-led UK-Pakistan trade dialogue, in which we will co-operate further on reducing and removing barriers to trade.

In the first half of the year, British food and drink exports to Europe were still 5% below their 2019 level, but imports from Europe were up by 22%. The last Secretary of State would not take any action to reduce the barriers to trading with Europe and, indeed, cut the funding for business groups to back British exporters. After the economic car crash that she and the rest of the Government caused last month, is it not time that this Secretary of State took a different approach?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. We are doing everything we can to support businesses. He will know that 2019 was before the pandemic, so of course we recognise that supply chain issues have had an impact on exports. I have been referring to this throughout today’s questions session. We have an export support service, and plenty of support in place to assist businesses trading across Europe and the rest of the world.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State continues to take such a complacent attitude to trade with Europe. This is not just about food and drink; recent data shows that exports of cars and car parts are still significantly down as a result of the trade barriers, and many hundreds of small businesses which were exporting to Europe, according to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, have simply stopped doing so. The Secretary of State’s own colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer)—a former exports Minister—has said that businesses which want to export are simply not getting enough support to do so.

Given the desperate need for growth following the kamikaze Budget that the Secretary of State backed last month, can she tell the House whether there will be more or less support for British exports after the Chancellor’s fiscal statement?

It amazes me that, even now, Brexit is still being blamed for everything. It is about time that the Opposition, who call other people complacent, paid attention to what is going on in the world and got off their personal hobby-horses. On car manufacturing, there is an issue with battery supply from the US, as everybody knows. We are doing everything that we can to support companies in getting the parts that they need. The export support service is doing a fantastic job, and I commend the officials who work in it.

T4.   When couriers demand payment of duty on goods from the European Union, with which we have a free trade agreement, are we being ripped off? (902048)

Items moving between countries normally attract customs duty and import VAT, but my right hon. Friend will know that the trade and co-operation agreement means that there will be no customs duty on goods moving between Great Britain and the EU if the goods meet rules of origin. Delivery companies may charge their clients handling fees for moving products internationally, but the Government do not have control over those charges, which are a commercial matter.

T3.   The Scottish Parliament would be unlikely to ratify a free trade agreement that did not include a standard human rights clause, such as the one that the European Union insists on. The Government seem to have ditched those human rights clauses. Should not trade policy reflect the policies and requirements of all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, not just those of the Westminster Government? (902047)

The hon. and learned Lady raises the important issue of human rights, but the UK Government engage around the world in defence of human rights, as she will be well aware from all her interactions in this place. The Scottish National party has always opposed EU trade deals, and the deals that she mentions that include human rights clauses were opposed by the Scottish National party in Brussels. It is a bit rich to say that EU trade deals are great but UK ones are not when she has opposed every single EU trade deal.

T5. Yesterday, I met Andrew Dennison, the founder of The Brilliant SOUK and Huxters in Dunstable. They are looking to grow their exports to the United States of America and elsewhere through Amazon. What more can the Government do to help businesses large and small to export more, using e-commerce channels? (902049)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and for everything that he does to support business in South West Bedfordshire. Businesses can access advice and support through the Department’s digital exporting programme, which helps UK businesses to use digital, including e-commerce, as a key route to market. To date, the programme has partnered with more than 50 global marketplaces, including Amazon, in more than 20 countries.

T7. The use of targeted trade sanctions against repressive regimes is effective, as we have seen in the case of Russia, and significantly weakens those regimes’ power, so what discussions has the Secretary of State had with international counterparts on how economic sanctions against the violent, brutal and repressive Iranian regime could be deployed effectively? (902051)

The hon. Lady raises a very important point about the use of trade sanctions. I agree that there are certain countries on which we need an effective trade sanctions policy. Discussions take place across Government, including with Foreign Office Ministers and at official level, and those will continue. I cannot give her the detail of those discussions, but I assure her that we are looking at the issue very closely.

T6.   I have met a good many constituents whose businesses are engaged in trade with Israel, and who have told me about the opportunities they see there, particularly in the technology and medical sectors. What progress has there been on a trade deal with Israel? (902050)

This is a very important deal. Earlier this year, we launched negotiations between the United Kingdom and Israel on an upgraded, innovation-focused free trade agreement with services at its heart. The first round of negotiations with Israel were completed in September. An upgraded FTA with Israel will cement our relationship with that rapidly growing economy, and take our trading relationship to the next level.

As the Minister of State knows, the Northern Ireland protocol poses a massive trade barrier for Northern Irish farming and businesses. The farming industry in Northern Ireland is worth £1.3 billion, so what discussions have been undertaken with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on smooth and frictionless trade for Northern Ireland’s farmers?

We know the importance of the agriculture sector to Northern Ireland. We have frequent engagements with, for example, the Ulster Farmers Union, and I was delighted to attend the Irish Whiskey Association reception here in the House of Commons just last week. Obviously, we do not lead on the Northern Ireland protocol, but we make sure the interests of Northern Irish exporters are represented in all our discussions with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) in celebrating the opening up of the American market to UK lamb, not least as much of the lamb slaughtered in his constituency is brought to my constituency to be prepared for export by Randall Parker Foods.

The Minister of State will know that the UK is now the world’s third largest exporter of lamb and mutton meat but, when he talked about CPTPP earlier, he did not mention the lamb industry. He talked a lot about data and services. Will he reassure the House that, when he undertakes that particularly important negotiation, the interests of British food and farming, and most particularly of the British lamb industry, will be at the forefront of his thoughts?

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s interest, and he rightly represents the key agricultural interests in his Hampshire constituency. CPTPP removes tariffs from 99.9% of British goods. We frequently say in this House that Australia and New Zealand are principally motivated by fast-growing markets in Asia when selling their agricultural produce. This country wants a piece of that action. Our ability to sell British lamb into the far east will be key for us, and DIT is engaging on that through CPTPP.

What recent assessment have Ministers made of the trends in services trade with the EU? What steps are the Government taking to increase that trade?

There are ongoing discussions about what we can do for services trade. Last month, I met my Dutch counterpart who brought over a trade delegation. We are working with countries individually on everything we can do to improve trade, not just on our services exports but on their exports, too, because they continue to want to sell to the UK.

Yesterday was Back British Farming Day, and many of us in this place joined the NFU in showing our support for the fantastic British farmers across the country, including in my Aldridge-Brownhills constituency, where we still have a small number of farmers. What more can we do to support our farmers, beyond the fantastic work on lamb in this trade deal?

I was at the NFU’s dairy export summit yesterday as part of my activities for International Trade Week and Back British Farming Day. My right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that this country’s dairy exports are increasing. I spoke to many businesses at the summit and they want information on exporting. There is a huge gap in knowledge on how to export, and that is one of the areas on which we want to provide additional information to support farmers.

I regularly hear from constituents in Glasgow North who are concerned that the Tories’ desperation for trade deals will lead to a race to the bottom on food standards. Can Ministers guarantee that there will be no chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef on supermarket shelves in Glasgow North as a result of Tory trade deals?

I first joined DIT six and a half years ago, and I cannot remember how many times I have had to say from this Dispatch Box that nothing in any free trade agreement alters or reduces UK food and animal welfare standards—that is absolute. The hon. Gentleman talks about our desperation for trade deals, but I would like to see the Scottish National party break the habit of a lifetime and support a trade deal, negotiated by either Brussels or the UK. It is about time he broke his duck and supported one of them.

We heard earlier about our great success in opening up new beef and lamb markets around the world. Earlier this year the Government backed a strategy launched by the NFU to increase agricultural exports by 30% through a 10-point plan. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government will continue to work with the NFU to land that 10-point plan to grow British agricultural exports?

Yes, I am very happy to continue working with the NFU. We, of course, have our own 12-point export strategy plan; I am sure that there is a lot of overlap between the two, but we are all trying to get to the same place, and I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) listed the litany of issues with the Government’s approach to trade deals. I mentioned Saxo bank’s assessment of the UK as an “emerging market country”, and with a US trade official describing UK trade policy as a disaster, why does the Secretary of State think the standing of the UK has fallen so far in the eyes of the world?

It is simply untrue that the standing of the UK has fallen anywhere close to where the hon. Gentleman says it has. We are committed to doing trade deals; in fact, this Government have done a record amount of them and are continuing to negotiate, not least on the CPTPP and with others to increase British trade around the world. It would be great if he would come on board and start talking Britain up, instead of talking it down.

During this hour of International Trade questions, we have had participation from SNP Members, independent Members, Democratic Unionist party Members and Liberal Democrats, but the official Opposition, for most of the period, have had two Back Benchers here. Does the Secretary of State agree that that must mean that the official Opposition approve of what we are doing so much—

Order. Mr Bone, that is the most irrelevant question I have heard in a set of questions. This is not like you; I thought your question would be at least on farming—whatever you want it to be.