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Continuity Trade Agreements: Parliamentary Scrutiny

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade to make a statement on the proposed parliamentary scrutiny of future Continuity Trade Agreements.

In under two years, the UK Government have signed or agreed in principle trade agreements with 52 countries that account for £142 billion of UK bilateral trade. That accounts for 74% of the value of trade with non-European Union countries that we set out to secure agreements with at the start of the trade continuity programme. Since the transition period began, we have expanded the ambition of our programme above and beyond that original scope. In November we signed an enhanced deal with Japan, accounting for £30 billion of UK trade in 2019, and we expect to make significant progress in securing further deals before the end of the transition period. We believe that this is the largest set of parallel trade negotiations ever conducted by any country.

Parliamentary scrutiny is central to our continuity negotiations. All signed agreements would be subject to the statutory scrutiny process as set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, providing a guaranteed period for Parliament to scrutinise and debate these agreements. Indeed, Parliament has held debates on six of our signed continuity agreements, and not one of those debates has carried a negative resolution. Further, we have voluntarily published parliamentary reports alongside all continuity agreements, explaining any differences from the predecessor EU agreements. I am pleased to see that our approach to scrutiny was praised in a recent report by the House of Lords EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, “Treaty scrutiny: working practices”.

As we approach the end of the transition period, it is possible that the scrutiny window for remaining agreements will extend beyond 1 January into the new year. That means that we may need to use provisional application for a short period, in order to guarantee continuity of trade relationships and avoid any cliff edges. I thank the right hon. Lady for her two letters on the subject to the Secretary of State last week. Provisional application is a well-established and widely used mechanism to give effect to treaties while domestic ratification procedures continue in parallel. Many EU trade agreements were or are being provisionally applied, including the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada and the agreements with Ukraine and with the Caribbean Forum. I remind the right hon. Lady that those EU agreements have already been comprehensively scrutinised at EU level and by this Parliament. In fact, the Government published a technical note in Parliament last year setting out our assessment of provisional application and the circumstances in which it might be used.

We will always take the time necessary to negotiate the right deals. Any agreement we sign must benefit British consumers and businesses, preserve our high food standards and protect the NHS, and they must share wealth across all our nations and regions as part of our levelling-up agenda. We look forward to submitting further continuity FTAs to Parliament for scrutiny once signed, and we welcome further debates on our independent trade policy.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question on an issue that should never have become urgent. The Government have literally had years to protect our free trade with countries such as Canada, Singapore and Mexico, but with just six weeks to go until the end of the transition period, 15 of those continuity agreements have still not been secured, leaving £80 billion of UK trade at risk—two and a half times our trade with Japan. Those 15 agreements have been left so late that the Government will now have to ride roughshod over the rules of parliamentary scrutiny to implement them in time.

Why do we find ourselves in this sorry mess? Why were 20 agreements signed in 2019, but only four so far in 2020? Why have we heard Governments such as Montenegro and Cameroon saying that formal talks were held in September 2019, but then nothing for a full year afterwards? Why, in just the past week, have we heard the Prime Minister of Canada say that Britain has lacked the “bandwidth” to do a deal and the Government of Ghana express dismay that their UK counterparts would turn up late and badly briefed to meetings and then leave early with nothing resolved?

Those are all the hallmarks of Ministers who are simply not doing their job. How else do we explain why the agreement reached two weeks ago with Kenya has still not been laid before Parliament and cannot now receive the full 21 days of scrutiny? It is sheer bumbling incompetence, and instead of taking responsibility today, the Secretary of State has sent her Minister in her stead —a fitting symbol of a total failure to grasp this issue during her 16 months in office. It therefore falls to the Minister of State to answer my three final questions. First, what new steps is his Department taking to get these 15 agreements over the line before Christmas? Secondly, when will UK businesses be told if any of those agreements, including with Mexico, are definitely not going to be reached? Thirdly, how can Ministers continue to defend the adequacy of the rules for parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals after the absolute mockery that they have made of them today?

It is genuinely a pleasure to answer this question. Let me try to take in turn the different points made by the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). First, may I say in general that we are working very hard on the remaining agreements? We have around 700 dedicated officials in the trade policy group who are working on the agreements, and the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), and I are also working carefully on them.

Are we riding roughshod? No, we are not. CRaG would still be fully operating—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury scoffs, Mr Speaker, but she voted the same way that I did for CRaG in 2010. She should have belief in what she voted for under the previous Labour Government.

As for provisional application, it is absolutely an accepted part of international procedure. It is under the—[Interruption.]

Order. I granted the urgent question in order for the question to be heard, but I cannot hear the Minister’s reply. I do not want a dialogue all the way through, please. I grant them on the basis that there is a need to listen to what is being said.

The Vienna convention has been around for a long time, and I mentioned that many agreements were provisionally applied by the European Union. I specifically mentioned the CARIFORUM agreement with the Caribbean Community countries and the Dominican Republic, which is also of course a Caribbean country. The reason I mention it is that it has been provisionally applied for the past 12 years. It was signed by the last Labour Government. If the right hon. Lady was happy with something signed by the previous Labour Government that is still provisionally applied today, she is making a bit of a mountain out of the remaining days that we are adding to the process, given the fact that that has been provisionally applied for 12 years. Kenya is a new deal; it is not the continuity of the pre-existing deal.

What steps are we taking? We are stepping up our efforts and working extremely hard. When will UK businesses be told? We are telling businesses all the time about the deals that we have done and landed.

The right hon. Lady mentioned Ghana. There is a deal on the table; it replicates the EU agreement and is consistent with the EU-Ghana stepping stone deal applied in 2016. We are not asking Ghana to do anything that it is not already doing.

The right hon. Lady said in her letter to the Secretary of State on 10 November, which she referred to, that representatives of countries from Cameroon to Montenegro have been communicating with the shadow International Trade team. I do not know whether it is quite right for the shadow Secretary of State to be corresponding directly with our negotiating partners during negotiations that we have been carrying out on behalf of the whole country. I would urge her in the interests of transparency to release all that correspondence with our negotiation opposite numbers, which she referred to in that letter.

It is ironic that the right hon. Lady invokes Ghana, given the amendments to the Trade Bill that she supported on other countries’ domestic production standards. The very exports that she is so worried about would have been prevented under those Labour amendments from entering the country in the first place.

The irony in Labour Members complaining that we have not yet rolled over all these EU agreements is this: they did not support these agreements in the first place. They voted against EU-Singapore, they abstained on EU-Japan, and they split three ways on EU-Canada, so they are complaining about agreements not being rolled over that they never supported in the first place.

As we know, Labour has moved on from the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) to the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). The right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury is caught between them both, first geographically and now on policy. She cannot escape from this: when it comes to trade and trade agreements, successive Labour leaders cannot decide whether they want these agreements or not. In short, they are in complete chaos, and their approach deserves to be dismissed.

I thank the Minister for his detailed and full responses. With more trade equating to more jobs in Dudley North and across the country, will my right hon. Friend update the House on the upcoming trade deal with Mercosur countries in the light of the recent Joint Economic and Trade Committee with Brazil?

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. I am aware of his background—I think he worked for five years in Brazil and knows the market extremely well. Mercosur is, of course, a very important partner for the United Kingdom, and there are significant opportunities for British business to do more trade, including with Brazil. Just last week, the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire, were pleased to host their first Joint Economic and Trade Committee with Minister Fendt from Brazil. They spoke about success to date in financial services and food and drink sectors. As there is not an EU-Mercosur deal in effect, any future UK-Mercosur deal is not within the scope of this programme.

The problem here is not simply the incomplete deals; it is the process we are following, which is not fit for purpose. MPs have no ability to vote to amend our negotiating mandate. As the Minister said, the Government report voluntarily, normally at the end of a negotiating stage to tell us that everything is great, but with no information about obstacles overcome or new obstacles emerging. Perhaps towards the end of a negotiation, the negotiators go into a tunnel from which no information emerges unless it is leaked to provide leverage, which is profoundly unhelpful. We are then offered a vote on a short take-it-or-leave-it debate—again, with no ability to amend or to reflect or represent constituents or sectoral interests. Finally, we find out, normally from the foreign press, as was the case with Switzerland and Norway, that the deal is not what the Government trumpeted it to be.

I ask the Minister, briefly, what action will he take to expedite the outstanding deals? What action will he take to mitigate the potential tariff and quota costs on some £80 billion of trade? More importantly, what action will the Government take because CRaG is not fit for purpose and we need a new system that allows MPs scrutiny and the ability to amend?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the rather more thoughtful questions than those of the official Opposition. Of course, to be fair to him, he voted against CRaG. In fact, he, I and the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) were all elected in the same year, 2005. He voted against CRaG, which is fair enough, and the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury and I voted for it. I can understand his consistency in being opposed to the process. However, we are confident that it represents a robust way of ratifying trade agreements and of Parliament having its say.

Not only that, but we have added to the CRaG process by publishing a scoping analysis and a likely economic impact assessment in advance of the deal, made written ministerial statements after each round, and then publishing an impact assessment when the deal is finally done which gets sent off to the International Trade Committee and the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee in the other place. We have gone far further than CRaG.

I will also say this about SNP Members. Once again, they are complaining about these deals not being rolled over, but they are all deals that they have either not supported or abstained on. They abstained on EU-Japan. They abstained on EU-Singapore. They are against EU-Canada. They are against EU-South Africa. They are against EU-Korea. In fact, I have gone back 15 years, and I cannot find a single trade deal that the SNP has ever supported or voted for, so it is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to come along today and say that the deals have not been rolled over—none of which he supported in the first place. The SNP is anti-trade, it is hellbent on breaking up our Union and it is against Scotland’s best economic interests.

Listening to both the parties opposite, given how important free trade is for prosperity, I say thank goodness we are the ones in government. I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for the work they have done in making as much progress as they have. I am confident that they will complete that progress in the time that remains.

As we head into 2021 and seek to negotiate another new round of free trade agreements, I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that not only are we champions of free trade, but we set environmental sustainability at the heart of the negotiations. Those are global challenges that must be reflected in our commitment to free trade.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his interest in this area. The UK’s new independent trade policy is designed to be very environmentally friendly. That occurred in the Secretary of State’s speech to the World Trade Organisation in the spring. The UK global tariff that we have published reduces import tariffs, or eliminates them entirely, on 104 environmental goods entering the UK, including things such as steam turbines. We have gone significantly further than the common external tariff of the European Union. When it comes to our negotiations with future trade partners, the US, New Zealand and Australia, we have committed to promoting trade in low-carbon goods and services, as well as supporting R&D, innovation and science in sectors such as offshore wind, smart energy, low-carbon advisory services and energy from waste.

The International Trade Committee first reported on the roll-over of trade deals in 2018. Hon. Members probably remember that we were told then that all the agreements would be signed about a minute after midnight on 29 March 2019. It is a huge concern that we still have not done 15 of those deals—indeed, with 44 days to go, the biggest trade deal with the EU is still uncertain. Is it not the truth that jobs, businesses and communities need to be better served by the Government in their work associated with Brexit and these incomplete trade deals? It is time for the Government to get their act together, and quick.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I remember appearing before his Select Committee during that inquiry in 2018, which I know he will remember well, too. The fact of the matter is that we have done roll-over deals with 52 countries. That is a very strong achievement and represents some 74% of the value of trade with non-EU countries that we set out to secure agreement with at the start of the trade continuity programme, which was when he did his inquiry. We are working flat out at the moment. He will know that just in recent weeks we have signed deals with Ukraine on 8 October, Côte d’Ivoire on 15 October and Japan on 23 October, and we signed an agreement in principle with Kenya on 3 November.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) raised Ghana, because that is what I am concerned about. The Ghanaian contention that the deal on offer is not compatible with the Economic Community of West African States simply does not stack up in my opinion. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Ghana’s deal with the EU is compatible with ECOWAS and our deal replicates the EU deal exactly?

I thank my hon. Friend for his keen interest in Ghana, which is an interest I share. I went with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2009 to help train up Ghanaian politicians. It is a country that I have kept a keen interest in for the past 11 years. There is a deal on the table. It replicates the EU agreement, gives full duty-free, quota-free access to our market and is consistent with the EU-Ghana stepping stone deal applied in 2016. There is no evidence that that existing EU deal has damaged Ghana’s relations with its ECOWAS neighbours.

I am surprised that the Minister keeps evading the whole thrust of the urgent question he was asked. Why is he so terrified of parliamentary scrutiny? He can talk about chaos on the Labour side, but chaos and confusion reign in No. 10. There is chaos and confusion in our relationship trying to get an agreement with the European Union as we leave. What is wrong with this Government? I am a member of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, which is being abolished just when we need it for parliamentary scrutiny. Why are this Government so terrified of being responsible and accountable to this House?

I just remind the hon. Gentleman, because he was definitely in the House in 2010, that the CRaG process, which was set up by the last Labour Government and which I strongly suspect he voted for, is exactly the system of parliamentary scrutiny that we are using as the basis for these continuity trade deals now. Not only that, but, as I have already outlined, we are building on the CRaG commitments with additional reports and additional involvement from the International Trade Committee and the House of Lords International Agreements Committee.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our departure from the EU offers the UK a golden chance to lead the world in modern areas such as services, technology and advanced manufacturing, creating great opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs in Stockton South?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Services represents about 79% of our GDP and 80% of our employment. The UK, as we know, is a world leader in tech and digital and far ahead of our closest European competitors, France and Germany. We are one of the world’s leading international financial services centres, with best in class industry, infrastructure, talent and expertise. The recently announced deal with Japan goes further than the EU deal when it comes to services, particularly financial services.

The Minister knows, but did not say, that the current CRaG process was put in place when many other layers of democratic scrutiny were applied to international treaties through the EU, but those layers are now gone. Now that his Department has failed to conclude the roll-over agreements, does he accept that democratic scrutiny needs to reflect not just the convenience of Government, but the proper oversight and challenge of Parliament? Or will he only change his view when he finds himself in opposition?

I think the hon. Gentleman is operating under the misconception that the Government do not want Parliament interested in trade and in trade deals. We are constantly at this Dispatch Box—I, the Secretary of State and the rest of the ministerial team—talking about trade and trade deals. We welcome all the additional parliamentary scrutiny. I remind him that the CRaG process he talks about was set up under the last Labour Government. We have gone further in terms of the reports that we publish and the involvement of Select Committees in both Houses of this Parliament.

The Prime Minister of Canada went on the record last week to say that the two nations had reached a point where, in effect, a deal with Canada was there for the taking. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that analysis, and can he update the House on the progress of the continuity Canada deal?

We are confident that we will be able to secure an agreement with our Canadian partners for entry into effect on 1 January. It is an incredibly important deal. I remind the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) that her official position, under the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) at the time, was to oppose doing this deal in the first place. Canada is an important strategic partner for the UK and our 16th largest trading partner worldwide. The UK exports £11 billion-worth of goods and services each year, and we stand ready to secure and expand this trade.

These deals cut across many devolved powers, so surely there should be a significant consultation and scrutiny role for devolved Parliaments and Governments, learning from experience in Belgium and Canada, for example—or does the Minister share the Prime Minister’s rather extraordinary view that the devolution of powers was a mistake in the first place?

As we know, international trade is a reserved matter. However, it does have an influence on a large number of areas of devolved competence, so it is quite right that we involve the devolved Administrations in formulating our trade policy and our approach to different trade negotiations. In terms of the relations that I have with the Scottish Government, the ministerial forum for trade meets quarterly, involving not only the UK Trade Minister—myself—but the three devolved Administrations. Since May, in the time that I have had the remit for talking with the devolved Administrations, I have met with Scottish Minister Ivan McKee five times.

Listening to what has been said so far, I am very glad that the Conservative party is in government, because we really recognise the value of free trade, not just in terms of GDP figures but the very real impact it has on our constituents—on the great people of Bishop Auckland and beyond. On that note, does my right hon. Friend agree with the interesting stance of the shadow Secretary of State that we should only make future trade deals with countries with which we have a trade deficit?

The shadow Secretary of State has come out with some extraordinary comments in recent times. That particular one sounded like it was verging on Trumpian mercantilism. My hon. Friend is right that, at a time of growing protectionism, trade provides economic security at home and opportunities abroad. It is a key part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Trade is very much part of this country’s future, as are trade agreements.

I am afraid I cannot share the relief of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) that we have a Conservative Government, because as we move closer to the end of the transition period, my constituents, and constituents and businesspeople all over this country, are increasingly worried about their inability to secure the deals and the clarity needed. As a Scot, I am not a nationalist, so my views cannot be dismissed as wanting to undermine the interests of Scotland in the United Kingdom, so can the Minister give us some indication of where these deals are going to come from, how they will be settled and what scrutiny they will have in this place?

I urge the hon. Member to judge us by our actions, not just our words. We have done continuity agreements with 52 countries, which account for £142 billion-worth of bilateral trade. On top of that, we have done a bespoke bilateral deal with Japan, which is the first stand-alone UK free trade agreement that this country has negotiated in 40 years. She should welcome the actions that we have taken to secure the future of these trade agreements and, in the case of Japan, improve on them.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress made so far in agreeing to roll over more than 20 of our existing trade deals? Is he able to reassure the House that the Government have sufficient capacity to continue to get trade deals over the line?

That is a good question, and the answer is simply yes. The trade policy group, which I have been involved with in two different stints at the Department, is an incredibly dedicated, highly professional group of people. It has grown from around 45 at the time of the referendum in 2016 to more than 700. We have taken in private sector expertise—lawyers, experts in trade flows, experts in particular product lines and so on. I am confident that we have the capacity and the right people in place, and I pay tribute to them all for the hard work that they have been doing.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) pointed out, the Canadian Prime Minister said last week that Canada was ready to reach a continuity agreement with the UK but that the British Government lacked the “bandwidth” to finalise the deal and, indeed, that his offer to provide support to the UK’s negotiators had not been taken up. Is not this just an embarrassing situation for the Government, who claim to be promoting global Britain?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. As I have already said, we are in a good position with Canada. I am confident that we will be getting a deal. I saw those comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, whom I greatly respect. The only other person I have seen make those comments is Winston Peters, the leader of the New Zealand First party. I see it sometimes from the negotiating teams opposite; we need to take what they say in a live negotiation with a pinch of salt.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that has been made on the continuity agreements that are so vital for our country’s prosperity, not least in sectors such as agriculture, which is so important to my constituency. With that in mind, does he agree that, while the Opposition parties seek to play political acrobatics with trade, it is this Government who are listening and involving farmers in our future and continuity trade deals by putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing?

My hon. Friend is quite right. I think I am actually due to speak with farmers in his constituency in the coming 10 days or so, which I am looking forward to very much. He is quite right that putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing means that all the National Farmers Unions from across the United Kingdom will play an active role in assessing trade agreements going forward.

Even the Scottish Tory leader’s senior adviser, the former Tory MP for Angus, has said that this Government need a “wake-up call” as we see decisions taken by the UK Government without regard to Scotland. A failure to roll over these FTAs would lead to a tariff and quota disaster for Scotland’s £15 billion food and drink sector. Indeed, with food and drink exports four times more important to the Scottish economy than the English economy, we can see why Scottish producers are horrified at this abject ministerial failure. Why will the Minister not acknowledge this £38 billion crisis? What will he do to fix it for food and drink producers in Scotland?

I think the hon. Member’s phrase was “abject ministerial failure”. We are working hard to roll over all these agreements. I just remind him that these are all agreements that were opposed by the SNP in the first place. It abstained on EU-Japan and EU-Singapore, and it was against EU-Canada, against EU-South Africa and against EU-Korea. He ought to be celebrating the fact that these agreements are not being rolled over, to be consistent with his previous position. We are working hard to make sure that they are rolled over.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should continue to follow the significant headway we have been making on a number of these trade agreements, and that we should help great British businesses, such as those in Stoke-on-Trent, to grow jobs by making the most of these agreements?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Both the Secretary of State and I have enjoyed meeting businesses in his constituency—particularly those in ceramics—and right the way across the city of Stoke. We have them on our minds in all our trade negotiations, to ensure that we get new opportunities for the ceramics industry in the Potteries and elsewhere.

The Minister seems keen to tell us how hard he and his team are working; meanwhile, crucial trade partners such as Canada seem to feel that the Government just have not got their act together and are not giving this the attention it deserves. Does he not realise that what is really important here is that British businesses, which need certainty about what their trading arrangements will be in January, are sat here in the middle of November still no clearer about whether we are going to be able to trade tariff-free with Canada?

I remind the hon. Member that the deals that we have rolled over represent around three quarters of the programme. We have updated businesses, as we have updated this House, after each of those deals to make sure that they are kept apprised. When it comes to Canada, of course, this is a live negotiation. We have contact happening every day with Canada. It is worth remembering that Canada actually walked away from the negotiation in 2019, and did not return to the table until July this year. As soon as Canada returned, we put in place a negotiating team and we got on with it.

Trade, and the jobs, investment and prosperity it brings, is an incredibly powerful way to level up our country and transform left-behind places such as Redcar and Cleveland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that promoting trade and helping our businesses to export is the best way to rebuild and reshape our economy?

I thank my hon. Friend and he is absolutely right. We have talked very much about the trade policy aspects of this Department. We are engaging very strongly with the US, for example, on steel tariffs. I know that is something his constituents will keep an ongoing interest in, making sure that those unnecessary and counterproductive tariffs are removed. But when it comes to the wider picture, the Department for International Trade more broadly works incredibly hard at promoting both the exports and inward investment that I know will be really important to his Redcar constituents.

While recognising that negotiating international trade deals is a reserved matter, the Minister will be aware that many of the policy areas included in trade negotiations are devolved to Wales. Considering this, I find it quite incredible that trade deals can be signed without the formal agreement and approval of the Welsh Parliament. Earlier, he alluded engagement that there had been with the devolved Governments, but can he inform the House whether he has received any critique from the Welsh Government about the approach of the British Government to these continuity deals?

I have an excellent relationship with the Welsh Government: first with Baroness Morgan and more recently with Jeremy Miles. The hon. Member is quite right that international trade is a reserved matter, but it does impact with devolved competence. I believe that the Welsh Parliament either has or will be recommending legislative consent to the Trade Bill, which I think is testimony to how well we are working together in the interests of all the people of Wales.

I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s comments on this topic. I also welcome progress on continuity trade agreements so far as a first step to more comprehensive trade deals in the future. Does he agree that we cannot force countries back to the negotiating table and we must not do any deals at any price?

My hon. Friend is quite right: it takes two to tango, and that is as true for international trade agreements. If the partner does not want to negotiate, of course we will speak with them and use all the levers we have to try to get them to the table, but at the end of the day, if the partner does not want to negotiate, I am afraid that can happen.

If the Government were in control of this situation and favoured transparency, they would have come to the House to make a statement, not be forced to via an urgent question. British businesses need to know how existing arrangements will be preserved. The Government’s negligence is leaving them susceptible to disruption to as much as £80 billion of global trade. I have listened carefully to the Minister and, as expected, it was lacking in any detail. When will the Government be able to share any real detail on how we are going to avoid this imminent risk to jobs and livelihoods?

I would point the hon. Member to the agreements that we have signed in recent weeks with Ukraine, with Côte d’Ivoire and with Japan, with Kenya agreed in principle. We are looking forward to further agreements in the coming weeks that I hope she will welcome and support.

Could I congratulate my right hon. Friend again on the Japan free trade deal his Department has just concluded, which has created new opportunities, such as for Lucideon in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent Central? Does he share my enthusiasm about the deal as an important pathway to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership?

My hon. Friend—it is good to have so many Stoke MPs here, from our Benches, asking questions—is quite right. The CPTPP represents a fantastic future for this country, and I hope that we are able to apply for formal accession in early 2021.

Our SPS—sanitary and phytosanitary—rules are based firmly on human health concerns, but they can have important animal welfare benefits by barring the import of food produced according to controversial intensive farming methods that would be unlawful here. With that in mind, will the Minister confirm that our trade deals will retain the ban in this country on ractopamine in pork and bovine somatotropin in dairy produce?

I can confirm that on 1 January under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 all of those existing rules will be transferred over to the UK statute book, and those bans will be maintained, which fulfils the manifesto pledge made by my right hon. Friend and I both individually and collectively last December.

I recognise that Northern Ireland is part of UK trade policy. However, under the protocol, while our goods can freely circulate across the European Union, we are not covered by the EU’s free trade agreements. There are major concerns that companies that are part of the supply chain for EU products will now be excluded from those processes due to rules of origin complications. This is a major problem for our agrifood industry in particular, especially the dairy sector. Will the Minister undertake to give urgent consideration to these complicated issues?

I greatly respect the work the hon. Gentleman has done in Northern Ireland over recent years, and he and I met in a separate capacity last year to discuss some of these problems. He is right: it is clear that under the withdrawal agreement and the protocol Northern Ireland is covered by UK free trade agreements, which is absolutely the right position to be in. Rules of origin complications with EU trade agreements are part of the active negotiation between London and Brussels at this very moment.

John Davies, who farms at Merthyr Cynog in my constituency, sits on the recently created Trade and Agriculture Commission in his role as president of NFU Cymru. He will be a loud voice for Welsh farmers, not holding back in his advice to Government. Does the Minister agree that having experts such as John scrutinising the detail of trade deals ensures they benefit Welsh farmers and proves this Government’s commitment to backing British farming?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and farming in Wales is so important that we have put its representatives on the Trade and Agriculture Commission not once, but twice; both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales are on it. We have excellent interactions and hear their feedback at the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and we look forward to that continuing when it is put on a statutory footing.

Wales has an exporting economy, with exports which in 2019 were worth £338 million with Turkey and £234 million with Canada. What assurance of stability can the Minister give Welsh exporters to these countries that they can continue their businesses next year?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, and he is right to highlight the importance of Welsh exports. They are very important to us at the UK Department for International Trade, and we are working very hard to get continuity of our trading arrangements with Canada—the CETA.

There is one section of the community for which trade deals are literally a matter of life and death for their business, not just some minor tweaking of tariffs and regulations. In the 1930s people could walk all the way from Lincoln to Grimsby across derelict farmland because of the import of cheap American wheat, so in the rush to conclude free trade deals will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be a gold standard process in this House, equivalent to our old European Scrutiny Committees, so that Members of Parliament who represent rural seats can hold the Government to account and protect our superb farming industry?

My right hon. Friend represents his rural Lincolnshire constituency very effectively. There is no rush to complete future free trade agreements; he mentioned particularly the United States and there was no rush to do that. It is very important that we get the right agreement rather than a quick agreement, and I have already detailed how our commitments to parliamentary scrutiny go well beyond the previous Government’s CRaG procedures; we have added a lot to that.

I thank the Minister for all he has done so far to secure the trade agreements, but may I ask him a question about the agrifood sector? Does the Minister agree that it is essential that we have the detailed proposals not simply to scrutinise, but also to get some indications to businesses who do not yet know how to plan for January, and whose position in limbo must come to a very speedy end? When does the Minister believe that that information will be available for those businesses?

As soon as we conclude one of these continuity agreements and sign it, we will seek to publish it as soon as possible and start the CRaG process. The hon. Gentleman asks about the agrifood sector, which is incredibly important to Northern Ireland. I have met representatives of the sector on various occasions. I suggest that he looks, as I am sure he has done, at the UK-Japan deal and the potential protection for about 70 geographic indicators in that deal, as a sign of our commitment to the whole agrifood sector.

The potteries were founded in Burslem by Josiah Wedgwood. They are known worldwide for their world-leading ceramic tableware, which, sadly, those on the Labour Benches forgot about. As the proud Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke and the chair of the all-party group for ceramics, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that deepening our trading ties with countries that share our values, ideals and high standards is essential for growth in the UK ceramics industry?

My hon. Friend is quite right. We have gone through Stoke from south to central and now to north. I reiterate our commitment to the ceramics industry, ensuring that we break down barriers, and reduce and remove tariffs to our ceramic exports in a way that is consistent with the UK values that I know both he and I share.

The Minister will know that when new trade agreements or changes to trade agreements can affect other areas of policy, there are, understandably, questions, so I thank him for meeting me on numerous occasions to discuss digital and trade policy. Specifically looking at the EU-Japan trade agreement, will the Minister say whether that agreement will change the enforcement powers for people’s data protection rights? Has his Department already consulted, or does it intend to do so, directly with the Information Commissioner on that?

I thank my hon. Friend for all his interaction. As the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, he has genuine expertise in this area and has continued his interest in it. He mentioned the EU-Japan trade agreement, but I think he is really asking about the UK-Japan trade agreement and the difference with the EU-Japan deal. If I commit to write to him in some detail on exactly where those differences are, he will be able to see them. I expect the report that is being submitted to Parliament will look at those differences in some detail.

Is it not true that the Government have just overstated the ease with which they would be able to do all this? We were going to have 40 trade deals on 29 March 2019, and we were going to have a trade area bigger than the EU, which was going to include China and the US. Prime Minister Trudeau said the talks hit the buffers because of the inability of the UK Government to negotiate trade deals—that is the truth of it. What are the Government going to do to ensure not only that we get these rollover trade deals dealt with, but that we have proper scrutiny of them?

I am glad the hon. Gentleman made his question as long as he did, because it gave me the chance to check the voting record on the Canada deal he just mentioned. He actually voted against it when the vote came to the House of Commons, so it is a bit rich of him now to complain it is not being rolled over.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the officials and Ministers in his Department on achieving 74% of the continuity agreements we wanted with non-EU countries? Will he further update the House on the progress he intends to make with the other 26%?

At a time when our economy is in peril and just 44 days before we leave the transition arrangements, we still have no agreement with the EU. Fifteen continuity agreements are yet to be agreed, breaching the Government’s own deadline which the Prime Minister clearly said was immoveable, yet the Trade Minister comes to the Dispatch Box and says that he will extend provision into January. Will he tell businesses what will happen to their trade with those 15 countries on 1 January, so they can now make their plans?

It is relatively straightforward. If the agreement is made with the remaining countries and there is not the time to put it through the CRaG process before 31 December, it has the potential to be provisionally applied. The terms of that agreement will remain on 1 January in accordance with the existing EU deal going into that time, so there should be no interruption for businesses. Parliament will still have the opportunity, under the CRaG process, to give that agreement full scrutiny.

I commend the great work of the Minister and the Department so far in securing trade deals across the world. West country produce is already the pride of a nation and it is proudly found on shelves from Stornoway to Sidmouth. Does he agree that by continuing the great work to break down the barriers to trade, we can export the best of the south-west and promote the finest standard of produce across the world?

I spent part of my childhood in the south-west, and I remember only too well the quality of its produce in the agrifood sector. We are negotiating better market access in markets such as Taiwan, China and the United States, where we have just had our first shipment of British beef this summer. We are also reducing tariffs in important areas such as the dairy sector, for example, on cheese, in some of these markets. This is part of a continuous engagement for UK agriculture.

We have a bad connection with Marion Fellows—we have tech problems—so we are going to go to Dr Neil Hudson.

I am pleased that the Government have strengthened the Trade and Agriculture Commission, announced more robust parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and provided reassurance that products such as hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken will remain banned in the UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree that writing specific unacceptable products such as those, and others such as ractopamine-fed pork, the excessive use of microbials and the use of growth promoters, into specific chapters in trade deals would be a practical way of ensuring that high standards are encouraged globally? Does he agree that such an approach would make it clear to both parties in trade deals that those products are not going to be traded, allowing other, acceptable products to be encouraged and therefore driving up animal welfare standards globally?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I think he is asking me to ban things that are already banned and put it in writing. Let me make it clear that we remain absolutely committed to our high food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards, on which he and I fought the last general election. We have ensured that the law offers protections for the existing standards, so that they will remain in place. Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the products he mentioned will remain illegal after 1 January.

As chair of the all-party group on Africa, I wish to emphasise the importance of trade between the UK and Africa. By offering Ghana levels of market access that differ from those of its neighbours in the regional trading bloc ECOWAS—the Economic Community of West African States—the Government are forcing Ghana to choose between new trade barriers within ECOWAS or tariffs with the UK, which would plunge Ghana’s banana and cocoa producers, many of whom are already in poverty, into even more extreme poverty. So instead of bullying countries such as Ghana, will the Minister work with African countries to agree deals that promote trade and fair, sustainable economic development?

I know, from previous meetings that the hon. Lady and I have had, her passion and commitment to the UK’s trade with Africa. On Ghana, I look at the situation closely, as does the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena). We are clear that there is a deal on the table. It replicates the EU stepping stone agreement. There is no evidence to suggest that the EU stepping stone agreement in any way discriminates in respect of Ghana’s trade with the rest of its ECOWAS partners. We have also to be clear that the UK will follow World Trade Organisation rules on discrimination between economies of similar levels of development when it comes to trade agreements. That is very important, for example, for the generalised system of preferences. The best thing for us to do is for the UK and Ghana to sign that deal that is on the table.

It is clear from the meeting that I held with the Minister’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire, last week that any accusation of foot dragging in dealing with these continuity agreements is clearly not correct. I am working with businesses in my constituency to take advantage of the widening trade opportunities. Does this Minister agree that Members from across the House should be working with businesses to ensure that we maximise the benefits of the trade policies being pursued?

My hon. Friend is right; we can have an esoteric discussion about trade policy, tariffs, quotas, automated tariff quotes and all this kind of stuff, but it must work for our consumers and our businesses. The whole point of doing trade policy is to make sure it boosts UK exports and inward investment in this country, and does good work for UK trade, consumers and businesses in constituencies such as his.

While the Department for International Trade attempts to strike trade deals, its counterparts in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are using the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to expand the powers of the Competition and Markets Authority. There is a growing concern that the Office for the Internal Market could be used to challenge the devolved Administrations by, for instance, American investors with an interest in a trade deal. Can the Minister confirm whether he or the Secretary of State have had any discussions with their foreign counterparts over the role of the expanded CMA and the Office for the Internal Market?

Of course the whole Government take a common approach to the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. It is important for our trade partners to know that the UK has a well-functioning and efficient internal market. The measures that have been taken are necessary to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, which is extremely important for Scottish businesses, particularly if an agreement with the EU cannot be reached. I commend the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill to the hon. Lady for her further consideration in both Houses of this Parliament.

Businesses in my constituency trade heavily with other nations, and obviously they want to get deals that will enable them to continue to do so as easily as possible, but they also know that deals have to be fair to both parties, whether that is two companies or two countries, so does my right hon. Friend agree that we should stand firm for British interests and not just accept any terms that are offered?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Even in the negotiation of continuity agreements, it is important to ensure that we get the best possible deal for British consumers and British businesses, including those in his Aylesbury constituency.

The Minister glossed over a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) earlier. My hon. Friend made the point that the CRaG procedures were established when the European Union was our main negotiating host and the scrutiny came through that process. Does the Minister accept that public distrust of bad trade agreements and public confidence in trade agreements will be established by parliamentary scrutiny, and will he now re-examine whether these procedures are adequate for a modern trading country such as the United Kingdom?

As I pointed out earlier, we have added quite a lot and gone beyond the CRaG process to ensure that Parliament is incredibly well informed. Over the course of this year, we have had many debates and published many documents, impact assessments, economic assessments and now reports on individual trade agreements. Parliament has been kept very well informed. When it comes to public distrust, the data shows that the UK public remain strongly in support of free trade.

As my right hon. Friend and neighbour knows, I am Scottish born and bred. Will he confirm that we will look to put in place deals that benefit all four nations of the United Kingdom and all regions?

I thank my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour for that question. We will always take the time necessary to negotiate the right deals that work for all nations of the United Kingdom and for all the regions of England, including our own region of London, as witnessed by the UK-Japan deal and the importance that that gives to UK financial services, which I know are very important to her constituents and mine.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that he and the team at the Department for International Trade have done in signing not only continuity trade agreements but trade agreements around the world that have the potential to benefit the whole economy and, importantly, local businesses in Burnley and Padiham. Can he reassure me that we will continue to work at pace to deliver even more agreements?

I can, and may I just say what a brilliant voice for Burnley my hon. Friend has been in this House over the last 11 months? I can confirm that we are working very hard indeed on the remaining continuity agreements, but let us also recognise how far we have come in the agreements that we have already got.

Scrambling at the last minute has been a feature throughout the Brexit process, and the UK Government’s approach to trade agreements is no exception. The Minister’s predecessor used to say that the EU trade deal would be the “easiest in human history”, yet that is now a race against time too. Will the Minister launch a full review of the timeline and negotiating strategy for future trade arrangements, so that they are not blighted by the serial incompetence that we have seen over the last four years?

I think the hon. Lady asked about scrambling at the last minute, but we have done deals with 52 countries that account for £142 billion of bilateral trade. That is a huge amount: 74% of the value of those non-EU countries’ trade before the start of this process. We look forward to further continuity agreements in the coming weeks.

I welcome today’s update on continuity trade agreements. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the future looks very promising for global Britain, and that we are much better off together as the Union?

I am delighted with the confidence that my hon. Friend has in the UK’s ability to carry out trade going forward. Under the Secretary of State’s leadership, and thanks to the whole team, all the people involved in the programme and an incredibly large amount of hard work, I am confident that we are in a good place today. I appreciate that that is also coming from my hon. Friend and his constituents.