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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

business and Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Exports from Devolved Nations to the EU

We are supporting businesses in all parts of the United Kingdom through our export support service, including our innovative Export Academy, which helps build market export capability among small and medium-sized enterprises across the UK. We have also established trade and investment offices in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, increasing the visibility of the Department’s services in the nations, and channelling the benefits of our new export and investment strategies to the entire UK. I am sure the hon. Member is aware of those benefits in his own constituency, with businesses such as Lynkeos Technology winning a £100,000 contract last year in Germany with the assistance of the Department.

I like the hon. Member, but that answer was nonsense, quite frankly. The Institute of Directors found in a recent survey that almost half—47%—of businesses are still finding trade after Brexit a challenge, with just a third envisaging any opportunities at all from Brexit. That report also found that 45% of SMEs are exporting less to the European Union post Brexit, with Scottish exports having already slumped by £2.2 billion because of Brexit. Does the Minister agree that Brexit is an act of state-sanctioned economic vandalism?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is saying this is nonsense. I am sure that those businesses in his constituency and across Scotland who get support from the Department do not share that attitude. As well as focusing on the EU, which is and will continue to be an important trading partner of the UK, we are looking to the entire world, hence focusing on so many other countries. I hope he will be a little more “glass half full” in the future.

Is the Minister aware that the Scottish Government are planning to bring forward draconian restrictions on the advertising of whisky and other drinks in Scotland? Not only will that cost jobs in Scotland but it will make it much more difficult for the industry to export to the EU and elsewhere.

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Such measures could have a considerable negative impact on so many Scottish businesses. That is precisely why we are seeking opportunities to support them, for example with trade deals, and trying to ensure that we reduce tariffs and are able to export more overseas. While we are backing our businesses right across the UK, I hope that in future we can get support from the Opposition, who might at some point come and join us and support one of the trade deals we are negotiating.

Unfortunately for the Minister, and unfortunately for Scotland, the latest data from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shows that between July and September last year, exports from Scotland to the European Union slumped by 5%. Will the Minister explain for an expectant nation exactly how that is in any way strengthening the case for the Union?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that, as we recover from a global pandemic, certain sectors and certain industries are suffering more than others. That is precisely why we have an export strategy and why the Secretary of State has articulated a five-point strategy for growth. We will continue to work positively with all sectors to grow our export opportunities. UK exports to the EU for the 12-month period to September 2022 were up by 25% in current prices.

It is not just the SNP who are saying what a disaster Brexit has been. With the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies saying that Brexit is clearly an “economic own goal”, and even a former Brexit Secretary saying that there have been no economic benefits from Brexit, is it not surely time for voters in Scotland to be given the choice between continued British economic decline or a prosperous, independent European future?

I know the hon. Member and some people are tempted to continue to fight the battles of the past, but this Government will be laser-focused on the future and future opportunities. We have the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and so many other opportunities around the world, and I think it would be good for all of us in this place to talk the British economy up, rather than talk it down.

US State-level Market Barriers

2. What recent discussions she has had with her US counterpart on reducing market barriers at the state level in the US. (903564)

We are taking tangible steps to improve our trade relationship with our largest bilateral trading partner, the United States. We have already signed state-level memorandums of understanding with Indiana, and North and South Carolina, which we are using to address barriers and promote British business in priority areas such as procurement, renewable energy, automotive, and life sciences. Together, those states imported more than £3.3 billion of UK goods in 2021. In December, the previous Minister for Trade Policy met counterparts in California to discuss an MOU, and counterparts in Utah to advance our talks. We are also making progress with Oklahoma and Texas, alongside our regular engagement with states across the US.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s answer, particularly the priority areas he outlined. However, from financial services to online shopping, digital trade is at the heart of doing business with our closest ally—the United States. Will my hon. Friend update the House on the progress made on removing barriers specific to such digital trade with individual states?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the digital economy. We very much see digital trade as an excellent area to focus on, deepening ties between the US and the UK. As part of that, we are keen to explore where we might be able to facilitate co-operation and promote digital trade with the US at state level. Further, the US-UK trade dialogues in Baltimore and Aberdeen last year helped to identify a range of trade-related areas for the two countries to collaborate on, and we agreed to strengthen further our bilateral trade in a range of areas, including on digital trade.

After failing to get a trade deal with the United States, the Government have resorted to signing non-binding agreements with separate US states. The Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) on the different sectors was interesting, but the Government have refused to confirm what economic benefits these agreements will bring to the UK economy. I give the Minister another chance: will he tell me what value in pounds and pence these agreements will bring to our economy?

Again, I am somewhat disappointed that the Opposition are talking down the opportunities we have. These MOUs seek to bolster the already strong trading relationships with US states, which, as I said, are worth £3.3 billion of UK goods. As we move through and implement the MOUs—we have good faith and goodwill with the people we have been negotiating with—we will inevitably increase our trade volumes. The US is already our strongest and most important trading partner, accounting for about 16% of the UK’s overall trade, and growing.

In my constituency, companies are able to sell to Europe, the far east, South Africa and south America, but they have difficulty selling their products—foodstuffs that come from our farms across Strangford in Northern Ireland—to the US. Will the Minister give some indication of what can be done in conjunction with the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland to open those doors to sales?

We are fighting for opportunities right across the UK. As I said, the US is a really important trading partner. With the MOUs, we are seeking further opportunities, but we are also working on removing trade barriers and inhibitions to trade. For example, since leaving the EU, we have secured major trade deals with the US, reinstating beef and lamb imports and ending damaging steel and aluminium tariffs, so we are working in individual sectors to try to find further opportunities at both state and federal level.

Export Opportunities for SMEs

3 What steps her Department is taking to help increase export opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses. (903565)

UK exports have grown by 24% year on year, and our landmark 12-point export strategy will challenge Government and the private sector to reach £1 trillion-worth of exports a year. As part of that strategy, we created the export support service, which has brought together helplines and services across Government to build a one-stop shop for UK exporters facing challenges in exporting to the EU. We are also delivering for businesses through our dedicated team of international trade advisers, reinforced by Department for International Trade events and programmes such as the UK Export Academy.

Last month, I was delighted to co-host my first successful export academy at Kirklees College in association with the Department for International Trade and UK Export Finance. Will the Minister outline how local DIT officers and UKEF can assist SMEs to export their goods and services across the world?

Mr Speaker, may I first thank you for your leadership in hosting President Zelensky yesterday? It really was a humbling moment for us all. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), with his can-do attitude, is constantly championing everybody in Dewsbury. As he may know, UK Export Finance offers a range of trade, finance and insurance products to help small and medium-sized businesses fulfil export contracts. It works with more than 100 private sector partners, including all major UK banks. UKEF support is underpinned by the innovative general export facility, a product designed to give SME exporters more flexibility when accessing trade finance. It unlocked almost £250 million of working capital loans in the last financial year. Local trade has obviously helped strengthen the “Made in the UK” branding, which provides export support to SMEs across the country. Face-to-face support for exporters in England is delivered via a network of around 200 international trade advisers. There is so much to say, but I think I should stop there.

SMEs in my area have been doing a huge amount of business internationally. One such company has been exporting 80% of its business for decades. In recent years, it has been challenged by China, and has had intellectual property issues; its IP has been stolen. I am afraid to say that it felt unsupported by the Department for International Trade. It faces an issue in Germany. Will the Minister meet me to help this business with the challenge that it faces in those countries?

The beauty of having former business Ministers in the new Department is that we are across most of these issues, including the issue of IP. I am more than happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman, or to make sure that the right Minister does, because we need to protect our IP.

Export Barriers for Food and Farming Businesses

4. What recent progress her Department has made on tackling export barriers for food and farming businesses. (903567)

May I also pay tribute to you for the way that you welcomed President Zelensky here yesterday, Mr Speaker? The occasion made us even more proud to be British.

Over the financial year up to March 2022, we did away with 192 barriers across 79 countries, including by opening up markets for UK poultry meat in Japan, and for UK pork in Mexico—a market that will be worth £50 million to UK pork producers in the first five years of trade. Of course, Cornwall is home to fantastic British produce, such as Cornish yarg and clotted cream, which are promoted and recognised around the globe through the GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign, and at home through our “Made in the UK, sold to the world” marketing strategy.

I have to mention Cornish blue and Cornish Gouda, which are made in my constituency. South East Cornwall farmers are rightly proud of their excellent produce. What more can the Department do to help these small businesses access the widest possible market?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we should be very proud of the food and drink sector. It is our largest manufacturing sector—larger than automotive and aerospace put together. Our Export Academy delivers specialist food and drink modules to get companies started, and our Export Support Service can answer questions on export markets in Europe. Companies can access our network of international trade advisers across England, and the Department has teams in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is over a year since the announcement of eight additional agrifood and drink attachés. Given that there was yet another gloomy report from the British Chambers of Commerce last month, which said that three quarters of SMEs anticipated zero or negative export growth this year, help is certainly needed. Will the Minister tell us what specialist training the attachés have completed on food and drink regulation in the relevant countries? How many UK SMEs have they helped to find new markets, and what is the value of any new exports that they have secured?

I am very happy to engage with the hon. Lady on that question, which had a number of other questions within it. As she knows, we have staff in more than 100 markets, and are building our existing attaché roles in China, Japan and the Gulf region. The Government are placing eight new dedicated UK agriculture, food and drink attachés in growth markets such as the US, Canada, Africa, India, South America, Brazil and Mexico.

Export Opportunities for SMEs

5. What steps her Department is taking to help small and medium-sized businesses export products and services to new markets. (903568)

The Department is opening new markets and creating new opportunities for exporters by agreeing new trade agreements and tackling market access barriers in countries around the world. Indeed, recently a deal was struck, worth up to £20 million, that allows Welsh lamb exports to the US.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto committed to 80% of UK trade being done under free trade terms by the end of 2022. The Government have clearly failed in their commitment to deliver free trade agreements. Does the Minister believe that free trade deals with the USA and India would help more small and medium-sized businesses to export? If so, would he care to apologise to businesses for over-promising and under-delivering yet again when it comes to these deals?

Trade agreements are clearly very important, which is why we have struck 71 agreements with countries around the world, as well as with the European Union. It would be a good thing if the Opposition were to support those free trade agreements. I just reassure the hon. Gentleman that trade with the EU, for example, is now at record levels. Last year, exports to the EU were £330 billion, compared to £298 billion in 2019.

Small and medium-sized businesses make up a large part of the huge food and drink export sector that the Minister has already discussed. Tomorrow, the Scotch whisky industry will announce full-year export results for 2022. Significant growth is expected, particularly in India, even with 150% tariffs. Will the Minister update the House on negotiations with India? Does he agree that a deal to reduce tariffs on Scotch whisky would be good not only for the distillers of Scotch whisky in Scotland but for the wider supply chain right across the UK?

I know my hon. Friend is visiting one of his distilleries next week. I agree with him that opening new markets to our whisky exporters is one of the great opportunities open to us in a post-Brexit Britain. As he knows, whisky is one of the UK’s largest food and drink exports, with £4.6 billion in 2021. We have an ambitious programme of free trade agreement negotiations to break down barriers. We are now in our sixth round of negotiations with India this very week.

Inward Investment

17. What steps her Department is taking to help increase the level of inward investment into the UK. (903583)

The UK’s total inward investment stock is the second highest in the world, having recently passed £2 trillion. As the Secretary of State outlined, we want to make the UK the undisputed top investment destination in Europe, attracting high-impact, high-value investment into our strategically important sectors which will make a real difference to the UK economy. We are facilitating both Government-to-Government and industry investment. The UK-UAE sovereign investment partnership will bring £10 billion to key UK sectors. Likewise, the Moderna partnership will support our research and clinical trials infrastructure, building a state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing centre and creating over 150 highly skilled jobs in the UK. Compared to 2020-21, last year —2021-22—the estimated economic impact of foreign direct investment projects supported by the Department for International Trade increased by 82% and the number of new jobs by 53%.

Minister, why are the answers so long? We have not heard the rest of the questions yet. I have a big list.

Burnley and Padiham are already home to some brilliant international businesses, such as Safran Nacelles, Paradigm Precision and Futaba Manufacturing among many, many more. Together, they support thousands of local jobs. To make our area even better, we want to attract more investment, helping businesses already here to grow and attracting new ones in. Will the Minister agree to meet me to talk through how we can make Burnley the best place to invest in Britain?

I think my hon. Friend, in promoting Burnley so much, has already made it the best place to be doing business. Burnley has a global reputation for manufacturing excellence. The companies that he references demonstrate the attractiveness of his constituency to investors across the globe, and the free trade agreements make it easier for investors to bring capital and create jobs in Burnley. And, of course, we would be delighted to meet him.

The Minister references the life sciences sector, which is so important for future prosperity, particularly in and around Cambridge. We are in danger of falling behind in the race for international investment, as evidenced by the fact that since 2018 we have fallen from fourth to 10th in hosting late-phase clinical trials. What are the Government doing to address that issue?

On clinical trials specifically, when I was life science Minister we commissioned a review of clinical trials—we knew that was a blockage—but I do not think the data he presents reflects the £1 billion Moderna deal we have just secured, including the deal with biotech. The fact that we have life science missions will enable us to attract more attention and work to the ecosystems we have here in the UK, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I am more than happy to work with him, because life science is one of our key exports of expertise.

I recently had the honour of welcoming the Prime Minister to Keighley, where he had the opportunity to visit Teconnex, a global leader in clamp technology that also provides battery storage to help commercial and industrial facilities to become more energy-independent. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that with businesses such as Teconnex in my constituency and other world-leading businesses right here in the UK, we can be seen as a more attractive place for foreign investment?

My hon. Friend proudly represents Teconnex as a firm in his constituency. The Department is keen to support all businesses that seek to invest or expand in the UK, particularly those that can help to spread jobs and opportunities across the UK and help us to deliver net zero. The Department is working across Government; we have previous Business Ministers here, and we are very close to the automotive sector and the supply chain. The new Department will ensure that there is a single, coherent voice for business inside Government to help my hon. Friend to represent business in his constituency.

The investment in Moderna will not be worth anything if we do not have the precision temperature-calibrated machinery to help with that development. SK Wiring in Denton is the UK’s only manufacturer of that high-tech wiring. It stayed open during the pandemic, even though it lost 70% of its industrial trade, to keep the covid vaccine going and keep the NHS going. It is now at risk of closure. Can we have an urgent meeting so that we can keep this critical national infrastructure developed in Britain?

Within the life sciences missions, manufacturing is a key point. I was at the life sciences conference in San Francisco when we finalised the deal with Moderna. Of course this is not about playing politics; I am more than happy to meet the firm in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, because vaccine manufacturing will be a key growth area for us.

Trade with European Countries

Europe remains a vital destination for British businesses, with exports of over £386 billion in the year to September 2022. That is up almost 25%, in current prices, on the previous year. As we speak, the Secretary of State is in Rome to establish the UK-Italy export and investment promotion dialogue, which will help to strengthen practical co-operation on exports in high-performing sectors and promote inward investment. We are also working closely with EU member states to tackle priority barriers and unlock export opportunities for UK businesses.

More than half of firms surveyed by the British Chambers of Commerce are struggling with the new post-Brexit export system. The Office for National Statistics reports that Brexit costs the economy £1 million per hour, and the UK economy has not recovered as well as other countries post covid. What plans does the Minister have to reduce trade barriers and EU border bureaucracy, which have hugely increased since Brexit?

As I said earlier, I hope that we can look at the opportunities of leaving the EU as well as trying to fight past battles. There are a host of opportunities; for example, I do not think that the EU had a particularly proud record on services around the globe. We are opening up services for many companies, which under the EU we were to a very large degree constrained in doing. We have huge resources for supporting businesses. Trade with the EU has been growing considerably, and we will do everything we can to support further growth.

These barriers have had a greater impact on EU trade than on the UK. When does the Minister anticipate the EU will wake up to what is in our mutual interest?

My right hon. Friend makes a perfectly good point. Our agreement with the EU is one of the most thorough and comprehensive trade agreements, but we need to work further. We are constantly looking at opportunities—country by country, industry subsector by subsector—to open up more trade by reducing the barriers. These are barriers that also existed when we were in the EU.

Over the past three years, according to the latest German trade figures, exports to Germany are up by almost a third from the US, by almost a quarter from the rest of the EU and by more than 10% from China, yet exports from Britain to Germany are down. Everybody else’s exports are up; Britain’s are down. Is it a lack of support to our exporters to Germany, is it the poor deal that the Conservative party negotiated with the EU, or does the Minister blame British business for the situation, as one of last year’s Prime Ministers once did?

Again, all I have to say is that I have much greater confidence in British industries taking advantage of opportunities, not only in the EU but around the world. I wish others in this Chamber shared that optimism and confidence in British business.

Foreign Direct Investment since 2016

8. If she will make an estimate of the level of foreign direct investment into the UK since 23 June 2016. (903573)

More global multinationals have set up subsidiaries in the UK than in any country other than the United States. This is the best place in Europe in which to raise capital. Between April 2016 and the end of March 2022, the Department assisted more than 8,700 foreign direct investment projects in the UK, which have created about 348,000 new jobs across the United Kingdom.

The UK has had a great track record of attracting foreign direct investment since we voted to leave the European Union. The figures given by the Minister will include the £200 million investment by Ball Corporation in the United States in the UK’s largest and Europe’s most advanced can manufacturing plant, in Burton Latimer. How does the UK’s record of attracting foreign direct investment compare with those of our major EU competitors?

My hon. Friend has given a fantastic example of the opportunities that have been created. The UK is a highly attractive destination for FDI, and has been among the top recipients in Europe over the last decade. According to the Financial Times and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the UK has the highest market share of greenfield FDI capital expenditure in Europe, at 20%—almost double that of Spain, which is in second place with 12%. It also has the highest levels of Food and Drug Administration stock in Europe, second only to the United States globally. It is remarkable how far we have progressed in such a short time.

The Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act 2022 makes investing in the US very attractive, particularly for innovative green technology. How are we going to compete?

In my previous role I was dealing with the impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act, and I hope I will continue to do so, because so many business representatives whom I have met have raised it as a concern. The hon. Lady has referred to green technology. A great deal of work has already been done to promote all our expertise, especially in relation to hydrogen, but there is a huge amount of investment in the UK’s green technology sector and technology in general, and we are also a leading light when it comes to lithium. I was recently in Cape Town with our Green Lithium firm, which wanted to negotiate on how it could do more work in the United States. That is exactly what we are here to do—to facilitate collaboration of that kind.

Trade Envoy for the Commonwealth

9. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of establishing a trade envoy for the Commonwealth. (903574)

The countries of the Commonwealth are important trading partners. Our total trading relationship was worth more than £146 billion in the 12 months to September 2022, which is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already appointed trade envoys to 15 Commonwealth nations. We have trade agreements with 33 Commonwealth members, and five of the 11 members of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership are in the Commonwealth as well.

As chairman of the 1922 committee’s Back-Bench foreign affairs policy committee, I recently shared our report with ministerial colleagues. One of its recommendations was the creation of a Commonwealth-specific trade envoy post. Does my hon. Friend agree that in this post-Brexit era, increasing trade and movement between the Commonwealth and the UK should be a top priority to foster economic growth? By the way, this is not a pitch for that job.

Yes, I am afraid that those jobs are at the discretion of the Prime Minister.

I hear what my hon. Friend is saying. We already have extensive coverage through the existing network, but we review the network regularly because we are committed to working with our allies in the Commonwealth to remove the barriers to trade and strengthen trading relationships to foster economic growth. Growing exports to Commonwealth countries is a priority, and trade increased by 25% in the year to September 2022. As for movement, we have a new global immigration system which is vital in supporting trade and economic growth, and the movement of business people on a temporary basis promotes and supports trade in services and goods and investment activities. Recognition of professional qualifications and business travel are always an important part of our trade deals.

Automotive Exports

The Department is working across Whitehall and with industry to secure export-led investment as the sector makes the transition to zero-emission vehicles, including new electric vehicle models, along with battery gigafactories and the electric vehicle supply chain. We have a dedicated export support system throughout the UK in the shape of our international trade advisers, ensuring that the automotive industry is the country’s biggest single exporter of goods, exporting nearly 80% of vehicle production—about 6% of the UK’s total exported goods.

If we are to continue to drive British automotive exports, it is critical that automotive businesses such as Vauxhall in Luton can make the transition to manufacturing electric vehicles effectively. The rules of origin from 2024 onwards highlight the need to attract the wider electrified supply chain to the UK as soon as possible. How is the Minister working with the automotive sector to expand our domestic electric vehicle supply chain—especially in respect of batteries—to avoid any future tariffs when rules of origin come into effect?

The hon. Lady will hopefully find some comfort in the fact that I have many meetings with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and have met the automotive sector multiple times to deal with this issue. We are very much aware of the rules-of-origin issue, which is why we are investing so much in batteries. In particular, the Faraday battery challenge is a £541 million project to help us to develop new battery technologies. I have mentioned already that I was in Cape Town to deal with the diversification of access to critical minerals in supply chains to ensure that we can process them and manufacture here.

Would the Minister like to congratulate Group Lotus in my constituency, which exports more than 70% of its car production? Would she like to take the opportunity to come to Hethel to see the new Lotus Evija supercar, which can do nought to 180 mph in nine seconds?

I am not sure that I can speak as far as that car goes, but I am more than happy to come to Hethel to visit Group Lotus. The amount of progress that has been made by experts, academics and scientists when it comes not only to zero emission vehicles but to speed is remarkable.

Foreign Direct Investment: Metro Mayors

11. What recent discussions her Department has had with Metro Mayors on attracting more foreign direct investment. (903576)

I met Andy Street this week to talk about foreign direct investment, and Lord Johnson will meet the 10 Metro Mayors today and look to discuss how we can attract more investment into mayoral combined authorities and how the Department can connect strategic regional opportunities to major international capital, such as the sovereign investment partnerships that have been established over the past 18 months by the Department and the Office for Investment.

I chair the all-party parliamentary group for London as a global city, and last year we published our first report, which featured analysis of the London-plus effect, a term coined by the London & Partners agency to show that our capital is the gateway to the world and that companies that first invest in London go on to contribute £7.6 billion and create 40,000 jobs throughout the country. Is my hon. Friend’s Department willing to consider convening roundtables with the Metro Mayors on how to maximise the potential benefit to the UK of the London-plus effect?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Andy Street was very clear about the importance of London to regional development in the west midlands. The Department convenes roundtable joint sessions with the M10 Metro Mayors twice every year, in additional to ongoing ministerial-mayoral bilaterals and official-level engagement. Such meetings include the discussion of shared priorities in respect of international trade and investment and of greater collaboration throughout all regions to increase foreign direct investment from new and existing investors.

The Minister will know that there are no Metro Mayors in Wales, but there are city deals and leaders that link across the south-west of England into Bristol and across the south Wales belt. Will the Minister set out what he is doing to work with local government leaders in Wales to ensure that investment is brought into Welsh constituencies as well as those throughout England?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are pleased that across York and North Yorkshire we are about to get our own Metro Mayor; I am sure he is working hard to bring that kind of governance to his area too, because it clearly delivers opportunity right across the country. As he knows, the FDI stock in the UK is worth £2 trillion, which is the second highest amount in the world. I am sure the opportunities would be beneficial to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents should he strike that kind of deal.

Free Trade Agreement with the US

We recognise that the US is not currently focused on FTAs. However, we stand ready to resume negotiations when they are ready. In the meantime, we are working to improve the trading landscape, including by removing US steel and aluminium tariffs and lifting the US ban on British lamb and beef. We are also working with the US on areas of shared interest that include digital trade, small and medium-sized enterprise support and supply chain security.

The reality is that there has been no real progress and, despite all the previous rhetoric, there remains no free trade agreement with the US. Does the Minister think his suggestion that this is the fault of the US President will help or hinder future negotiations?

As I said, the US is not currently negotiating FTAs, not just with us but with any other country. We are working and we have very good dialogue with one of our closest allies in so many areas, including economically, culturally and militarily, and that dialogue will of course continue. As I said in my previous answer, we are working in many areas, including steel and food, to create opportunities, alongside work in respect of the memorandum of understanding. Considerable progress can be and will continue to be made, even without an FTA.

Global free trade is and always has been the greatest motor for global prosperity, which is why many of us voted for Brexit. A free trade deal with America is the greatest prize of all. Will the Minister confirm that, as far as we are concerned, there are no barriers at all—whether it be chlorinated chicken or whatever—to trying to conclude an agreement? We want this deal with the US. Does the Minister think that it will happen?

We are very keen to conclude a deal with the US, but, at the moment, it is not able to enter into those negotiations. However, that will not prohibit us from continuing to find opportunities and to remove barriers where and when we can, as well as seeking those opportunities across the world. I appreciate what the right hon. Member said at the beginning of his question about how we, on the Conservative Benches, are firm proponents of free trade. It is good for the UK economy and good for the world economy, and we need to continue to make sure that that message is heard loud and clear.

Had the Conservative party negotiated a free trade agreement with the US, as it promised at the general election, British firms would have been protected from new market barriers to green trade that are being introduced by the US Inflation Reduction Act 2022. That means that new investment and jobs here in Britain in green energy, electric vehicles and new technology are at risk. Is it not the truth that the infighting in the Conservative party last year meant that Ministers woke up much too late to the threat and that they have done far too little since to try to ameliorate the damage?

As I said, the US is not focused on free trade agreements at the moment, and we are disappointed that the US has opted to pursue policies in the Inflation Reduction Act that will harm British businesses and impact global supply chains. The UK expects to be and, as the closest ally of the US, should be part of any flexibilities in the implementation of the IRA, and we will continue closely engaging with the US Administration to ensure that UK concerns are addressed.

Tackling Modern Slavery: Trade Negotiations

14. What steps her Department is taking through trade negotiations to help tackle modern slavery in global supply chains. (903579)

The UK is a world leader in the promotion of human rights and remains committed to ensuring that trade supports an environment where workers’ rights are upheld, including working towards the eradication of modern slavery in global supply chains. We should remember that the UK was the first country to produce a national action plan for the implementation of the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. In both our agreements with Australia and New Zealand, for example, we have secured world-leading modern slavery provisions.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but the UK has named the Gulf Cooperation Council as one of its priorities for trade deals and has begun negotiations. We know that the economies across the Gulf are built on the terrible kafala system, enabling coercion and debt bondage and facilitating modern slavery. How can the Government justify such talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council given those basic human rights concerns?

Protecting UK workers’ rights remains a priority for this Government. The UK will continue to meet its obligations under the International Labour Organisation and to advocate for the highest labour standards and working conditions globally, and that includes in our discussions on free trade agreements. In the UK GCC FTA, we will retain the UK’s high standards and protections, including the right to regulate labour, and we will also seek assurances that labour rights are not reduced to gain a trade advantage. We have these discussions in this and other Departments, and we are always happy to have frank conversations with our friends.

Green Industrial Sector

16. What steps her Department is taking to help increase trade opportunities for the green industrial sector. (903582)

Green trade is a foundational building block of sustainable growth, helping to protect our environment and our energy security, and future-proof UK jobs. In the two years to October 2022, the Government have supported £20 billion of net zero-related inward investment to help grow our green industries.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we drag our feet developing new renewable energy industries, foreign investment will go overseas?

I agree with my hon. Friend and thank her for her incredible work on the Celtic sea initiative. I attended her reception in Parliament, which was very well attended indeed and very optimistic about the potential for the Celtic sea.

We know that the net zero transition will create new industries worth around $10 trillion to the global economy by 2050. We recognise that the international landscape is becoming increasingly competitive as a result, but we are not dragging our feet. Securing inward investment to the UK’s green economy is a top priority for the Government, and the Department will be working closely with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, UK Export Finance and the Office for Investment, using all the levers at our disposal to promote the UK offer overseas.

Parliamentary Scrutiny of New Free Trade Agreements

18. What steps she is taking to support effective parliamentary scrutiny of new free trade agreements. (903584)

The Government are committed to transparency and effective scrutiny in our trade agenda, going beyond the statutory framework set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That includes providing extensive information prior to the commencement of talks on free trade agreements, as well as regular updates to Parliament during negotiations. At the end of negotiations, we have committed to additional parliamentary scrutiny time, as well as to publishing further information such as the advice of the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission.

Over the last year, the Government’s former Environment Secretary, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), has labelled the Government free trade agreements a failure, and the Prime Minister has called them one-sided. Is such criticism the reason the Government spend so much time avoiding any real detailed scrutiny of these trade agreements?

I respectfully disagree with the hon. Lady’s characterisation that there is insufficient scrutiny, and I respectfully disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who made some comments earlier this year. Last time I answered this question, you quite rightly had a go at me, Mr Speaker, because I gave a long list of examples of extensive scrutiny on our free trade agreements. I will spare the House by not repeating it , but I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave previously.

Topical Questions

The Secretary of State for Business and Trade is currently in Mexico, driving forward our negotiations to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and progressing bilateral trade discussions. I am delighted to be representing the Department as the Minister for international trade; I thank my predecessor for his work in delivering the Government’s ambitions, and the former Minister for exports as well.

Just last week, the then Minister for trade policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), held talks with his counterparts in Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore on trade, outlining the benefits the UK will bring to CPTPP as we look to conclude our accession process. When the UK joins, the bloc will represent 15.4% of global GDP, rising from 12%. Later today, I am meeting ambassadors and high commissioners from all CPTPP countries, where I look forward to discussing how we can enhance their ties with the UK. Our negotiators continue to engage with their counterparts.

International students are of huge benefit to every constituency in this country, not just to university cities such as Cambridge, but different parts of the Government seem to be sending out very different messages as to how welcome they are. Will the Minister tell us what his Department is doing to secure this important trade benefit for the UK?

The Government are always open across multiple Departments to engage constructively with industry and players, and that will continue to be the case. If the hon. Gentleman would like to invite us to have a discussion with him, somebody in his constituency or other stakeholders, we would be delighted to do so. We work with businesses in this party.

T4.   Wimbledon, Morden, Raynes Park and Motspur Park are home to many high-tech companies, including GripAble, which is developing solutions for neuro diseases. What are the Government doing in these trade deals and what steps are they taking to ensure that we get investment and trade in high-tech companies? (903592)

My hon. Friend once again promotes a fantastic business in his constituency. The UK tech and digital sectors are key for us and are our greatest success stories, with a total valuation in excess of £1 trillion in 2022. The UK tech sector retains the No. 1 spot in Europe and is No. 3 in the world, as the sector’s resilience brings continued growth. On tech within life sciences, we are one of the top countries in the world to be seen collaborating and investing with.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, and all House staff for the work on President Zelensky’s visit. I also welcome the Ministers to their rearranged places, but I do not think it is a surprise that the Prime Minister has decided to shuffle the deckchairs on this particular ship. We had a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy with no industrial strategy and we had a Department for International Trade delivering either no deals or bad deals. In an assessment of the Conservatives’ 13 years in office, can the Minister inform the House when they expect to hit the target of £1 trillion- worth of exports, which David Cameron promised by 2020?

What a blow to one’s ego to know that one’s Department is such a disappointment, but we are working so closely with our colleagues to drive investment, represent businesses and focus on trade that it makes absolute sense for us to be here. I know that I am new to this business, but I thought that the £1-trillion target was for 2030. If that is the case, we have seven years to go, so I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman be a little patient. In seven years’ time, he will be there, on the Opposition Benches, and we will be here, on the Government Benches, ready to update him.

David Cameron promised it by 2020; the last Prime Minister but one promised it by 2030; and, as the Department for International Trade set out in a written response, the Office for Budget Responsibility said that the target will not be met until 2035—15 years late. Is that any surprise? The Government have delivered no trade deal with the US, no trade deal with India, and an ongoing impasse on the Northern Ireland protocol, and the current Prime Minister said that the deals that they have delivered, such as the Australia deal, were “one sided”. The truth is that they can swap around Ministers and departmental names, but at the heart of it is a failing Government who are out of ideas.

I completely understand why the right hon. Member may be confused. We on the Conservative Benches represent business, and I know that the Labour party was stopping people from doing their business by backing the strikes. We on this side of the House represent trade, but I cannot think of a single trade deal that he was proud to support. I can understand the level of complete confusion, but I do not understand some of the figures that he cites.

There is such fantastic news out there. We have talked about the fact that we have attracted £20 billion in tech. Why would the right hon. Member not be proud of that? If he wants to talk about reports, just last night I read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which said that the UK would be the fastest growing G7 economy by 2050, and will outgrow Germany, France and Italy. That is good news. I thought Thursday mornings were about promoting Great Britain—

And topical questions are meant to be short and brief. I call Philip Hollobone to set the example.

T6.   Excitement is building in Kettering ahead of the visit by the Minister with responsibility for small business, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), to the North Northants Business Network on Friday 10 March. One hundred representatives from local small businesses are really keen to meet him. Will he be kind enough to give us a taster of the optimistic message that he will bring to small businesses in Kettering? (903596)

Excitement is also building in me ahead of my visit to Kettering. I am a proud champion of small businesses, which, as we all know, are the engine room of growth in our economy. That growth has been good over the past 12 years—the third fastest in the G7—but we want it to be faster. I am very keen to engage with my hon. Friend to see how we can help small and medium-sized enterprises to do that.

T2.   Now that the Trade Remedies Authority has been in operation for almost two years and has produced its decision, can the Minister tell me what plans there are, if any, to review how it operates and the guidelines to which it works? (903589)

I thank the hon. Lady for the constructive engagement that we have had about the TRA. I know that some of its decisions have been impactful on her and her constituency. We will be looking for some reform of the TRA, and I would be happy to discuss that further with her.

T7. It is brilliant to see that state-level memorandums of understanding are being signed in the US, but with only three so far, it is clear that we can go further to cement that important trading relationship. What progress are we making with other states, and when can we expect further MOUs to be signed? (903597)

Absolutely. We have agreed MOUs with Indiana, North Carolina and, most recently, South Carolina, as my hon. Friend sets out. We are actively engaging with other states, including Oklahoma, Utah, Texas and California, and I look forward to updating the House on further progress.

T3. I understand that the Government are set to undertake a second round of trade negotiations with Israel in the spring. Israel applies our current agreement to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, against the EU negotiator’s original intentions. Have the Government considered how they will go about preventing any repeat of that situation and preventing illegal settlements from benefiting from the prospective deal? (903591)

We are progressing with the free trade agreement with Israel. We are excited about the opportunities it presents, in particular because of the focus on science, technology and innovation. I understand the point that the hon. Lady is raising. I think some of it cuts across other Departments, but I will write to her.

The global dairy market is forecast to be growing in the region of 2%, so can my hon. Friend outline what steps his Department is taking to ensure that our world-class British dairy products are at the front of the queue to benefit from that growth?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said earlier, food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector—larger than aerospace and automotive put together. He is right to point out the opportunities for dairy in our free-trade negotiations, and that will be taken forward as the negotiations progress.

T5.   Banks and insurers are using environmental, social and governance criteria to block companies that work in the defence industry, stifling jobs, skills, innovation and UK exports. Why have the Government done nothing about that? (903594)

The hon. Lady raises an important point, but we are trying to work across all sectors—industry by industry and sector by sector. We have clear processes, particularly when it relates to arms. We are trying to seek opportunities for fair trade across the world, whether it is imports or exports, and we will continue to make sure that we do so on an ethical basis.

What action does my hon. Friend intend to take to reduce tariff barriers with developing countries, such as Pakistan?

I believe that my hon. Friend is the trade envoy to Pakistan, and I look forward to collaborating with him. Pakistan already has a preferential trading relationship with the UK through our generalised scheme of preferences. This will be replaced by the developing countries trading scheme, and Pakistan will continue to benefit from duty-free exports to the UK and the removal of tariffs on 156 products. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend.

Edusport Academy, based in my constituency, was set up in 2011 and had a thriving business prior to Brexit. It brings young sports people over to Scotland, combining sport and English language training. Since Brexit, Edusport has struggled to make the business work due to restrictions put in place by the Home Office. Will the Minister meet me and Edusport to discuss how we can make this business work and continue to thrive?

As I have said, we will continue to work with the EU to try to reduce barriers that do exist. I cannot make a promise on behalf of the Home Office, but I note what the hon. Lady has said, and I will try to facilitate the appropriate meeting with the appropriate Minister for her.

The fairness of imports and exports in Northern Ireland is hindered by the impacts of the Northern Ireland protocol. What steps are being taken to ensure that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is sitting in the House of Lords like the Mary Celeste, as others have said, passes smoothly and efficiently to reinforce trading fairness for businesses in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland plays a full part in all our trading agreements, and I believe that a Northern Irish machinery exporter is involved in the Australia deal. My hon. Friend and I have spoken quite a bit about the Northern Ireland protocol in respect of the Bill I took through recently, and he will be aware of the sensitive discussions that have taken place with the Administration to ensure everything can be as smooth as possible. If needed, I will always be available to meet my hon. Friend.

Sitting suspended.