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Topical Questions

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

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.