Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 681: debated on Thursday 8 October 2020

Over the last month, we have made significant progress to establish the United Kingdom as an independent, free-trading nation. We have agreed in principle a deal with Japan that goes further and faster than the EU deal in areas such as digital and data, food and drink and financial services. We have set out our pathway to join the trans-Pacific partnership, and yesterday we joined the WTO government procurement agreement, which gives British businesses access to a £1.3 trillion global market.

Just as Israel has signed a peace treaty with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, it is innovating to create an instant covid-19 test that is currently being trialled at European airports. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to work with innovative Israeli companies in that area?

I congratulate Lord Austin on becoming the new trade envoy to Israel. I am delighted to see the reaction on the Labour Benches—they are obviously very pleased with that appointment. We have already signed a continuity FTA with Israel, and we want to go further in a new free trade agreement in areas such as tech, digital and data. We are two tech superpowers, and there is huge opportunity for British businesses and Israeli businesses to work more closely together.

I was listening to the Secretary of State on the “Today” programme yesterday morning, when she twice repeated the Government’s mantra of wanting a trade deal with the EU just like Canada’s. But the Government will not agree to non-regression clauses on environmental protection or workers’ rights, both of which are in the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—the trade deal between Canada and the EU. The Government also will not commit on state aid beyond WTO rules, while CETA contains stronger agreements on subsidies. Could the Secretary of State share with the House whether the Government are planning to change course and accept those provisions in their deal with the EU, or will she just admit that they do not really want a Canada-style deal at all?

The reality is that what the EU is demanding goes far beyond Canada in terms of an ex-ante regime on state aid, as well as alignment with rules and regulations. We will not accept that. We do want a Canada-style deal. The reality is that the Labour party would not even accept a Canada-style deal with Canada.

It is an undisputed fact that capitalism and free markets are the surest route out of poverty. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on how the Department is using trade to boost development in Africa? (907190)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before I returned to the Department, I was the chair of the trade out of poverty all-party parliamentary group in this place. We have achieved duty-free, quota-free access for 39 African countries, and only yesterday the Prime Minister appointed 11 new Africa trade envoys. However, what would be unhelpful to our trade relationship with Africa is Labour and SNP Members’ proposals to dictate domestic production standards in the developing world, which has the potential to kill off our trade with those countries. I would ask them to look those countries in the eye when the Ghanaians cannot sell us their cocoa, when the Caribbean cannot sell us bananas, when the Kenyans—

Order. [Interruption.] No, no, no. Minister—and I will say this to both Front Benches—topicals are meant to be short and punchy. They are not meant to be for debating points like other questions. That is why topicals were brought in. Both Front Benches have taken advantage, and none more so than the Minister just then. Let us head up to Preston with Sir Mark Hendrick. Come on: calm is needed.

May I ask the Secretary of State how she can agree the terms of a trade deal with the United States Government when neither they nor we currently know the extent to which the UK’s regulatory framework will be permitted to diverge from the European Union’s? (907191)

We are absolutely committed that we are going to have our own independent regulatory regime, and we are no longer going to be permanently aligned with the EU. We have made that very clear: that was the point of Brexit.

Stockton is a town of firsts, be it the first passenger railway or the invention of the friction match. How will our future trade agreements help the latest generation of innovators export across the globe? (907192)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Innovation has always given our businesses an edge. Virtual Reality and 3D specialist Amazing Interactives in my hon. Friend’s constituency are examples of how innovation can continue to take business and exports forward. Today’s innovators, like Amazing Interactives, will benefit from our new FTAs.

The Macallan, a single malt whisky bottled by Edrington in my constituency, is just one of many iconic Scottish products suffering under the 25% US trade tariffs. A year down the line, can the Secretary of State explain why single malt whisky is not at the top of our US negotiating list? (907196)

I am absolutely determined to get these tariffs removed. The reality is that the European Union, which the hon. Lady and her colleagues want to rejoin, has failed to sort out this issue with Airbus for 15 years. We now have an opportunity—we have an independent tariff policy starting next year—and I am determined to get those tariffs removed.

Businesses in Warrington South tell me they want to do more business around the world. Can my hon. Friend tell me and the House how they can do that with the benefit of our new free trade agreements? (907193)

I know that many businesses in Warrington are already flying the flag. Earlier this week, I was delighted to learn that Warrington’s ICC Solutions has secured a deal with a major US acquiring bank so that its technology can be used to make card payments safer in America. This company does great work as one of our export champions too. Ultimately, FTAs are going to create better jobs, higher wages, more choice and lower prices for all parts of our country. An ambitious FTA with the US could boost the economy in the north-west by £389 million per year.

In response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, the UK has been at the forefront of EU sanction action against Russia, which this Government have reiterated their support for in two written statements to the House this year. Does the Secretary of State accept an obligation to operate the same principles in relation to trade with the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories? (907203)

Sanctions are a matter for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and I will pass on the hon. Member’s views to it. However, to answer the first part of her question, the UK has been absolutely robust in its approach to Russia on many fronts, not least the illegal annexation of Ukraine, which we have opposed at all points. We will continue to highlight that injustice at every international forum available.

I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State and her turbocharged Department on the government procurement agreement, the Japanese free trade deal and progress in many other areas. It was a pleasure to welcome her to North Cornwall recently to demonstrate our great British food offer. Then it was cheese; today it is shellfish. North Cornwall has a lot of shellfish fishermen who hope to take advantage of our new trading independence. Can the Secretary of State tell me what consideration her Department has made of potential opportunities for crab and seafood exports to Asian countries such as Korea and Taiwan? (907194)

There are huge opportunities for great Cornish seafood in Japan, Korea, and all of Asia. Our Japan deal will see tariffs reduced on salmon, and the Cornish sardine properly recognised. We are holding a webinar on 26 October to help seafood exporters, including crab exporters, crack the Japanese market.

I have had more representations on the overlapping issues of food safety and animal welfare in trade agreements than on almost any other issue for a long time. The Conservative party was keen to insert animal welfare provisions into EU trade agreements—indeed, the issue was in its 2015 manifesto. Why was the inclusion of animal welfare provisions in EU trade agreements good enough then, but not good enough to be written into UK legislation now? (907206)

In each individual trade agreement we consider key issues such as animal welfare. We are consulting closely with the farming industry, including the pig industry, which sees all the offers we put forward in individual deals. Each deal will be scrutinised by the International Trade Committee, and the implications for animal welfare will be independently verified. Parliament will have an opportunity to debate those issues. We take this matter seriously, and as the hon. Lady said, those issues come to light in each individual trade deal.

Despite the best efforts of Scottish National party Members, Scottish businesses want to trade around the world. What efforts are the Government making to ensure that Scottish businesses are able to trade around the world in the way they wish? (907195)

My hon. Friend is right, and last week I announced a new trade hub in Edinburgh, which will help businesses in Scotland to grow internationally and recover from the impact of coronavirus. The hub will promote opportunities for Scottish companies, and FTAs will provide access to our global network, which is provided in 115-plus markets. There is the support of UK Export Finance—[Interruption.] It is hard to hear oneself think with the chuntering from the Opposition Front Bench. Would it not be great if we saw the same interest in trade, and promoting trade, not least in Scotland, rather than chuntering and sideline messages?

We have had five years of horrific humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and over that period the Government have traded and made profit from £6.5 billion-worth of licensed arms. At the same time, they have given only £1 billion in aid. The UN has said that a consistent pattern of harm to civilians is being caused, so will the Secretary of State say why profiteering from arms sales is more important than supporting civilians in crisis? (907210)

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but Her Majesty’s Government take their arms export responsibilities very seriously. We assess arms exports in accordance with strict licensing criteria. Those are consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria, and we draw on a lot of available information, including reports from non-governmental organisations and our overseas network. We will not license the export of equipment where to do so would be inconsistent with the criteria.

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State on the radio this week talking about the benefits of free ports, and there is a fantastic bid for a free port at East Midlands airport. Does the Minister agree that that could have a transformational effect in the east midlands? (907197)

First, let me praise my hon. Friend. If the allocation of free ports were based purely on the championing of their case by Members of Parliament, it would be a certainty that he would have one in his area. Yesterday, Her Majesty’s Treasury published the response to the consultation on free ports, which outlined how they will help to level up the UK economy, bring in new investment, create high-skilled jobs, and provide new opportunities in ports and the areas around them. Although it will be an open, fair, and transparent process, I have no doubt that the advocacy of my hon. Friend will set a precedent for others and, I hope, lead to a successful outcome for him.

On Monday, farmers from across the United Kingdom will be demonstrating in Parliament Square to make the point that, to them, future food standards and animal welfare provisions are essential. Will the Secretary of State join me in meeting them to hear from them at first hand about the importance of this? (907213)

I have met farmers from across the United Kingdom, and indeed the Trade and Agriculture Commission that we have set up to advise us on these issues is conducting a series of regional meetings with MPs and farmers to get their views, to make sure that our policy on every free trade deal works for farmers right across the country.

The Welsh Government have not been allowed to negotiate with the EU, so if Welsh farmers, some of whom voted in favour of leaving the EU, find that they face tariffs and border controls on lamb, will the UK Government give the Welsh Government compensation to give to those Welsh farmers and other sectors that have lost out through a badly negotiated deal? (907214)

Both the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union Wales are represented on the Trade and Agriculture Commission to ensure that there is a full voice for Welsh farmers on future trade agreements. Under the recent Japan deal, Welsh lamb is now going to be recognised as a indication, geographical, and we are fighting to get lamb into the US market. There are lots of opportunities out there for Welsh lamb farmers, which we are pursuing vigorously.

In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.