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Trade Deals with ASEAN Countries

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

Last year, we secured trade deals with Vietnam and Singapore. This month, I submitted our application to CPTPP—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—a huge free trade area covering £9 trillion of GDP, which contains four ASEAN countries.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on everything she and her Department have achieved in terms of signing trade deals across the world. It is certainly important that the UK continues to engage in deepening its trading relationships with its close allies and trading partners, such as Australia, New Zealand and the United States, but there are also many other significant trading partners and friends across the globe, such as the Kingdom of Thailand, where I serve as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy. Could my right hon. Friend see her way to prioritising Thailand in the next round of countries to engage in formal free trade agreement negotiations, so that we can formalise our trading relationship with this long-standing and valued trading partner?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of Thailand. We have a bilateral relationship worth £5 billion a year and he is doing a fantastic job as our trade envoy to that great country. We are currently conducting a joint trade review to identify priorities in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and food and drink, and this is strong groundwork for a future FTA negotiation.

I am delighted to see that the Secretary of State is answering questions about the 2.9% of our global trade that we have with ASEAN countries, having refused to answer questions about the 47% of our trade with Europe. However, as that is clearly her priority, can she tell us this: why has she decided not to suspend Cambodia’s trade preferences, given the escalating human rights abuses in that country? How bad would these abuses need to get before the so-called “last resort” was reached?

I would point out to the right hon. Lady that the trade that I am responsible for covers 80% of GDP, and the reason why we have not hitherto had as much trade with that part of the world is because of the high trade barriers that we are seeking to remove through these trade agreements. I do, however, share her concerns about human rights violations in Cambodia, and this Government continue to raise the issue with the Cambodian Government at every opportunity.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State’s answer, which I find very interesting indeed. Is she not aware of the guidance that has been given by her Department to UK companies doing business in Cambodia? It was published by her Department last week and contains this reassuring advice:

“while political disputes could trigger protests, these would be broken up rapidly by the security forces.”

That sounds to me like her Department does not care. How does the Secretary of State think it sounds in Cambodia?

As I have said, we are concerned about the situation in Cambodia, but it is important to recognise that trade sanctions can often have impacts on the poorest people in a country. The best way that we can achieve our objectives is through the work of the Foreign Office and my colleague the Foreign Secretary, in raising this issue at a political level.

Mòran taing fawr, Mr Speaker. The UK Government have removed direct access to the EU market, damaging GDP for the UK by about 4.9%, and that is the area that 47% of UK exports go to. The Minister has not replaced that with any new markets at all; all the new deals have been merely rollovers of EU deals. So, forgetting all the flowery adjectives about trade deals, and she did talk about GDP, what do the numbers say about the gains to GDP from ASEAN trade deals? Also, does she have any numbers for CPTPP yet?

The Chairman of the Select Committee understands that a lot of the economies we are talking about are fast-growing. We want to be in a position, in 2030 to 2040, to make sure that the UK has deep relationships with some of the fastest-growing parts of the world, like CPTPP, the United States and places where our exports are currently growing faster than they are for the EU. I would also point out to him that it is Lord Frost and the Cabinet Office who are responsible for negotiating and working with the EU.