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Trade with European Countries

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

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.