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Trade Facilitation Agreement

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 23 March 2017

4. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of the WTO trade facilitation agreement. (909451)

The World Trade Organisation agreement on trade facilitation entered into force on 22 February 2017 once two thirds of WTO members had accepted the new agreement. This is a very significant event. Once fully implemented, the agreement could add more than £70 billion to the global economy, and of that we expect a benefit to the UK of up to £1 billion.

I should say for the benefit of the House, because there was a quizzical air in the Chamber, that Question 2 was withdrawn. That is a situation which is not dissented. I can see that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) is in his place, but the question was withdrawn.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for the work he is doing to try to secure a bespoke trade deal, and to his Ministers for the work they are doing as well. We do not want to fall back on to WTO rules, but, if we did, what would happen to airlines, digital data flows and trade and services?

There is a difference between some of the agreements mentioned, which are bilateral agreements, and WTO tariffs that largely apply to goods. We hope to get a comprehensive agreement with our European partners across all the sectors that my hon. Friend mentions so that we will see no interruption to the business as we have it today.

The WTO trade facilitation agreement’s coming into force last month brought about great reforms such as reducing fees on imports and exports and quickening clearance procedures. What impact will the reforms have on UK businesses that are importing and exporting?

UK exporters in particular will benefit from the customs reforms being introduced, and implementing the agreement will reduce delays at the borders of participating members and improve the trading environment for businesses engaging in international trade, making it easier and cheaper for UK businesses to export their goods across the globe.

May I associate the Democratic Unionist party with the sentiments that have been expressed for the innocents who were murdered yesterday? Our thoughts and prayers are very much with those who were injured.

With the initial period of this agreement now under way, will the Minister determine how we can enhance and further build capacity in this area? Does he believe that lessons learned here can and will affect our approach to Brexit, trade and negotiations?

As most European Union countries are already higher than the bar set by TFA, that will not have a huge effect on intra-European trade, but it will have a beneficial impact on European exporters, especially if they are exporting to markets such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest benefit of the trade agreement is likely to be felt.

Will the Secretary of State give some reassurance to Welsh lamb and sheep farmers, who have faced 40% tariffs under WTO, and ensure that if we do have a trade agreement with New Zealand we will not be flooded with New Zealand lamb?

When we get to the point at which we begin to have those discussions, we will want to take into account a balance between UK producer interests and UK consumer interests, and we will also wish to ensure that we are making a contribution to a global liberal trading environment that benefits everybody.

This agreement is potentially of greatest advantage to the least developed countries, in which we have put very considerable investment. Will the Secretary of State continue to drive forward that agenda?

Yes, and we have actually invested a large amount of money in supporting the agreement itself and in ensuring that it can be introduced in as beneficial a way in as many countries and as quickly as possible, because, as my right hon. Friend correctly says, this agreement will have the greatest benefit to some of the poorest countries in the world, which is why the United Kingdom, under Governments of both parties, has been so supportive of it.

For well over a century the UK has not had security of food supply, but has instead always relied on imports. What will WTO tariffs of up to 40% do for the price of food for hard-working families already squeezed by the Tory Government’s policies?

The hon. Gentleman perhaps unintentionally raises this important point: where we have genuinely free trade it benefits consumers, and where we can have an open global trading environment, it is likely to make the incomes of those on low incomes in particular go further. We should welcome an open trading environment, which I hope the Scottish National party does.