My Lords, our priority is to put government resources where they can have the greatest impact on UK businesses. The Department for International Trade runs 200 high-value campaigns across a range of markets and sectors. We have a proven framework for analysing where government interventions can add the most value for the benefit of the whole of the UK.
My Lords, surely it is right that, while we should seek to get a bigger share of new and expanding markets in the world, we also need to have an active export promotion strategy with regard to Europe. Will the Minister confirm that being in the single market is no barrier to trading elsewhere, as demonstrated by the fact that Germany exports four to five times as much to China, for example, as we do? Will she also confirm that, while we at present send just under half of our exports to Europe, in some parts of the country that percentage is much higher? In the north-east it is 58%. For our automotive and aerospace industries in particular, which are very heavily integrated in Europe, the European market is going to be vital.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I can reassure her that the Prime Minister has been clear: we seek a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union, covering tariff and barrier-free trade in goods and services, offering the fullest possible access to the single market for British companies. In relation to particular areas and sectors, since 2015 the Department for International Trade has carried out extra northern export missions and since 2016, Midlands missions. We have introduced teams to lead investments in the north and the Midlands. We are looking at a whole array of different measures to improve our exporting.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and the noble Lord, Lord Price, have told committees of this House that the Government have been conducting an exercise to consider what the costs and burdens on British business would be in leaving the customs union. Now that the Government have their policy to leave the customs union, presumably that assessment has been concluded. Will they publish it so that Parliament is able to consider this before it is asked to vote to trigger Article 50?
Is the Minister aware that her first Answer was deeply encouraging? However, are there not areas where further work needs to be done, particularly, for instance, in revamping the Queen’s Award for Exports, which has not been looked at for decades, or in bringing together the chambers of commerce? Those chambers need to have some form of encouragement to go overseas, particularly in the two or three years ahead.
I assure my noble friend that the Department for International Trade has been engaging widely with individual businesses and trade associations since the referendum and will continue to do so. We are committed to fully understanding the views of stakeholders, limiting uncertainty and ensuring that we build a trading environment that works for everyone.
My Lords, are the Government sufficiently satisfied with the uptake by United Kingdom companies on the export finance facilities, and does the Minister believe that the offerings by government are sufficiently robust to act as a tool for post-Brexit export prowess?
The noble Lord asks a valid question. In the last year, UK Export Finance supported the highest number of UK exporters in a quarter of a century, 23% more than in the previous year. However, UKEF is not complacent. The doubling of its capacity announced by the Chancellor will enable even more UK businesses to export. UKEF’s offering is a key component of the UK’s success as a global trading nation.
My Lords, there is time enough for two more questions. We can go first to my noble friend and then to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
My Lords, services are particularly important to the United Kingdom’s economy, but they by no means always play a prominent part in trade agreements. Can my noble friend assure me that the Government will make it a priority that our services will receive prominence in all trade negotiations?
I agree with my noble friend that services are an important part of our economy. However, we work in a whole range of different sectors and we have market sector priorities; for example, every year we consider which country sector combinations the Government can add most value to. Services are of course a huge part of that. We have to keep it in mind that the UK is the fifth-largest economy in the world. We have leading universities, low tax, low regulation, an economy fuelled by some of the most skilled workers, and the World Bank continues to rank the UK as the highest major economy for ease of doing business, which is one of the reasons so many firms, such as Snapchat, Rolls-Royce, and Nissan, are choosing to invest in the UK.