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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Trade Deals with ASEAN Countries

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.

Trade Deals: Human Rights Clauses

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912430)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912436)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912465)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912472)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (912478)

The United Kingdom has long promoted her values globally. While our approach to agreements will vary between partners, it will always allow this Government to open discussions on issues, including on rights and responsibilities. We are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of our values.

The Lords have listened to the Minister’s objections to the genocide amendment and done everything to accommodate them in its latest iteration, while retaining the fundamental objective that judges should decide whether genocide has been committed. On behalf of the Government, will the Minister of State finally agree to accept the will of Parliament and back this historic amendment?

We are clear that Britain has a long history of protecting rights and promoting our values globally. We will continue to encourage all states to uphold international rights obligations, including under the convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide. We supported an amendment in this House on the principle of a formal parliamentary process leading to a guaranteed debate, but the latest amendment is unacceptable because it seeks to bring about constitutional reform by the back door, and it would impinge on the proper constitutional settlement, blurring the distinctions between the courts and Parliament.

I say to the Minister that this country does have a proud record of upholding human rights, but this Government have a very unhappy record of allowing, for example, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has seen the killing of innocent men, women and children. On that basis, does he accept that trust is fundamentally important on the issue of human rights under any Government? Why should anybody trust this Government?

I certainly want to make sure that all Members across this House can trust this Government, but I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that Labour’s record on this is hypocritical and, sadly, it enabled antisemitism to be rife within its ranks. They turned a blind eye to terrible behaviour from countries that they like, like Venezuela, and the shadow Secretary of State even shared a platform with Hamas. So we will not be lectured by the Opposition on these issues.

I last raised this issue on the Floor of the House on 19 November, and the Minister for Trade Policy told me to

“judge us on our deeds and not always on our words.”—[Official Report, 19 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 455.]

So can I clarify, when it comes to human rights and Saudi air strikes in Yemen, that we should be judging the Government on the export licensing statistics published last month, which included the sale of £1.36 billion-worth of bombs and missiles to Saudi between July and September 2020—almost as much as the last 19 quarters put together?

We have a rigorous arms export control system in this country, one of the best in the world, and no arms will be exported that are inconsistent with the consolidated criteria, which were introduced in 2014.

I just want to press the Minister on the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). Last September, the UN said that Saudi airstrikes in Yemen had led to a consistent pattern of harm to civilians, unlike our own Government who said in July that there was no such pattern and that it was therefore lawful to resume arms exports. Can the Minister of State explain how his Department looked at exactly the same evidence as the UN and reached an entirely different conclusion?

We rely on a range of information from across Government, non-governmental organisations and elsewhere and we will always make sure that all of that evidence is properly considered before any arms are exported anywhere in the world.

Grave human rights abuses, including torture, rape, extra-judicial killings, and arbitrary detention continue to be committed against Kashmiris in Indian-occupied Kashmir. Will the Minister ensure that any trade deal signed with the Indian Government includes firm commitments to ending those human rights abuses and holding a free and fair plebiscite, as agreed by the United Nations, that allows the sons and daughters of Kashmir to fulfil their birthright to self-determination?

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman’s passion for this issue, but where is the passion for jobs, where is the passion for exports, and where is the passion for investment? That is what this Government are getting on with. Perhaps it is because they cannot make up their minds on the Opposition Benches: they are against deals with democracies such as Israel as well, and yet they have cosied up to regimes such as Venezuela. Although this question was about future trade deals, we will get on and deliver jobs and prosperity for the British people.

It has now been two months since Ministers agreed a trade deal with Cameroon. It was shortly before the US Senate voted to suspend theirs because of President Biya’s human rights record. Incredibly, we do not know what the UK’s trade deal with Cameroon says on human rights, because it has still not been published. Can the Minister tell us when Parliament will be finally shown that deal, and can he guarantee a debate on it in Government time?

I welcome the fact that the shadow Minister is interested in our trade agreement with Cameroon, which benefits both countries to the tune of £177 million-worth of bilateral trade, but the British people will have heard today six questions from the Labour Benches and not one of them included anything about jobs. That just shows, sadly, that Labour has no intention of delivering for the British people and capitalising on our independent trade policy, because it is anti-trade, anti-jobs, EU-obsessed and it sneers at those who do not share their world view and are proud to be British.

One area, of course, where we do not have problems with human rights clauses being inserted is the EU. The Minister is interested in jobs. I have a small company in my constituency, Poco Nido, which employs four people. The owner of that company, Catherine Lobley, has told me that, since the end of December, she has not had a single shipment of goods getting through to the EU. The goods are caught up in customs and have been stuck there for three weeks. She says that the whole system has collapsed. Her 10-year-old business will be destroyed, with the jobs, within a month unless the Minister acts. When will the Minister ensure that the Brexit deal that the Government promised is actually delivered in practice?

My hon. Friend the Minister for exports is doing great work to make sure that British businesses can export to the world, including to the EU, and the hon. Gentleman will know that we have covered deals with 64 countries, plus the EU, protecting trade worth £889 billion. Of course we want to make sure that, in the years ahead, there can be more trade with the EU, our near neighbours and good friends, but we are also focused in this Department on trading with the world.

High Growth Global Markets

Driving access for UK exporters to high growth markets worldwide is at the heart of this Department’s work, securing new free trade agreements, removing trade barriers and informing, encouraging, connecting and financing exporters. Ninety per cent of global growth—90%—over the coming years is expected to be outside Europe, so that is why we are hitching UK business to the fastest growing markets and have recently applied to join the CPTPP.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. What action is the UK taking to increase our export footprint in future growth areas such as renewable energy, particularly in countries such as Mongolia?

The Department—not only in renewables, but in minerals as well—is running a mining export campaign for Mongolia, supporting UK-based investors and our mining supply chain, using the unique convening power of government to engage with the Mongolian Government and mining businesses. We are supporting UK investment in solar and waste energy plants, and are in discussions with the Mongolian Government on UK participation in infrastructure projects, including renewables, which my hon. Friend mentions, and hydropower. Atop all that is the cherry, in the form of my hon. Friend, who is the Prime Minister’s dynamic and effective trade envoy for the country.

I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he does to strengthen trading relationships between Britain and our international partners. Can he assure me that the Department for International Trade regularly engages with businesses of all sizes across the UK, including in north Wales, to ensure that the objectives of the Department are closely aligned with the needs of industry?

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight this issue. DIT has a relationship with more than 200,000 UK businesses, ranging from large multinationals to small start-ups. Our UK-based sector teams, our highly experienced trade advisers across the regions and devolved Administrations, and our teams in our overseas embassies all work closely with UK businesses to support their export ambitions, while our export academy programme builds small and medium-sized enterprise know-how, enabling businesses to sell to customers around the world with confidence.

Steel manufacturers such as Liberty Speciality Steels in Stocksbridge produce high-quality components that are used across the world. Steel produced in Europe has half the carbon footprint of equivalent Chinese imports, and, as countries follow the UK’s lead in reducing emissions demands, demand for green steel will increase. How will my hon. Friend ensure that UK manufacturers such as Liberty Speciality Steels in Stocksbridge can capitalise on this growing market and make global Britain the world leader in green steel?

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. There is a real opportunity here, is there not? That is why the Government have a range of schemes in place to help the steel sector to expand its green exports into those growing global markets. That includes establishing a £250 million clean steel fund and providing £66 million through the industrial strategy challenge fund to help steel manufacturers to develop radical new technologies and establish innovation centres of excellence. These funds will be accessible to all UK steel manufacturers, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which I am sure value her long-standing commitment to the sector, and her permanent and regular efforts to raise them in the House.

Dream Climbing Walls is a Scottish business that was exporting to the high-growth market that is the European Union, which accounted for around 60% of its sales. After Brexit, its costs due to customs charges and delivery add-ons have skyrocketed. Goods that would normally take three to four days to arrive are currently a month in transit. Because of this Government, that business is now climbing the wall in a very different sense. What steps is the Minister taking to sort out this Government’s calamitous mess, and will he now urgently look at measures to compensate the thousands of companies just like Dream Climbing Walls that have lost out as a result of this Government’s actions?

May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his personal commitment to rigorous scrutiny and ensuring that the Government are held to account? I am sure that he would agree that others could do likewise in being similarly robust. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made clear, it is our noble friend Lord Frost and the Cabinet Office who lead on that particular work. There are teething problems and there will be on ongoing frictions every day, but I am pleased to say that we are reducing those and are now seeing a return to pre-covid levels at our border. We will continue to work with and support our exporters in order to learn how best to do this. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ensure that his Administration support his colleagues in the SNP and beyond to help support exporters.

I appreciate that the Minister wants to promote exports to some countries more than to others, but many of our constituents trade with Europe and need to safeguard their existing relationships before going looking for new ones. That is just good business practice. His Department telling exporters to open an office in the EU is not good practice when it is its answer to delays at the border that it was warned about. When are Ministers going to sort out the problems at the border that mean businesses are drowning in red tape?

I would have hoped that the shadow Minister would be aware of where Government responsibilities lie in terms of the negotiations with the EU, but I can assure him that the work is ongoing to do that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is, unusually for a Labour Member, a former businessman himself—[Interruption.] I am being endlessly heckled by the shadow Secretary of State, who probably knows where I am going with this, because she appears more interested in exports to Venezuela and Russia and only last month was chiding the Secretary of State for talking to the US—

Order. We don’t want to fall out again, do we? We have got Anne McLaughlin in Glasgow waiting.

One of the biggest global growth markets for local companies until Brexit was the EU. A1 Kilt Hire in my constituency was doing a roaring trade hiring out kilts to wedding parties across Europe, but nobody in the UK Government has been able to tell it if and how it can continue trading because its products are for hire and not for sale. HMRC could not even tell it if it would have to pay tax when the kilts were returned. Where on earth can hire companies that have survived this double whammy so far go to for advice on continuing to trade in Europe? Given the Minister’s two previous answers, I am guessing that it is not him.

I must congratulate the hon. Lady on the speed of her uptake, because yes indeed, as I have said in my previous answers, this is for a different Department of Government. I think she suggested that the EU was a growing share of the global market, but it is not. Twenty years ago it was the majority of our exports; now it is a minority. Its share of global GDP has been falling. We are, at the direction of the Secretary of State, pitching our business to the fastest-growing parts of the world, not the more sclerotic.

Mounting costs are killing one of our biggest exports—culture—with additional duties on physical product and performers. My constituent Andy Smart has regularly performed at two comedy/ski festivals, but now one of them no longer accepts Brits, preferring the Irish, and the other has been cancelled as unviable because of Brexit obstacles. Can we work cross-departmentally to abolish these levies, because, as one of those festivals is called, it is literally taking the piste?

There is no one better in this House than the hon. Lady at marrying sociological insight with popular culture, and of course as an experienced DJ she knows more about music than most of the rest of us. I entirely agree with her, though, that we have to work flat out, in a cross-governmental way, to ensure that we minimise any frictions at the border for those vital and important cultural exports of which music is an important part.

G7 Presidency

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on trade priorities for the UK’s G7 presidency. (912432)

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on trade priorities for the UK’s G7 presidency. (912439)

What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on trade priorities for the UK’s G7 presidency. (912448)

The United Kingdom has a huge opportunity, with the presidency of the G7 this year and the election of Dr Ngozi as World Trade Organisation director general, to drive forward free and fair trade. This is more important than ever as we seek to recover from covid and address the issues with the WTO. We hope to make good progress ahead of the ministerial conference in December.

May I once again commend my right hon. Friend for the excellent work she and her team have done to date? Can she advise the House what she will be looking to achieve under the trade track?

Under the trade track, there will be an opportunity for G7 democracies to work together to help to reform free and fair global trade and shape a bold vision for recovery. In particular, we want to make progress on key issues such as challenging unfair industrial subsidies, dealing with carbon leakage and promoting digital trade.

A key plank of the UK’s future trade strategy must be dedicated to securing our supply of critical minerals, which are vitally important components in the next generation of green renewables and communications equipment. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that in the run-up to the G7 summit, we must take urgent action, first, to work with allies to form a stable, reliable and independent coalition for the mining and processing of critical minerals and, secondly, to bolster the British critical minerals industry for domestic use and for exports?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We need to work with allies to make sure we have resilient supply chains of critical minerals and are not reliant on high-risk vendors. That is a priority for this Government, and that is why we are leading Project Defend. I was delighted to see Cornish Lithium for myself on a visit to Cornwall last autumn. Not only will that help us make sure that we have this critical supply of minerals, but it will boost jobs and growth in a very important part of our country.

I welcome the exceptional work done by my right hon. Friend’s Department to ensure that the UK stands as an ambitious internationalist country, and in that regard I would like to know what steps she is taking to improve access for UK exporters to high-growth global markets.

We have signed deals covering 64 countries, including the Caribbean nations, where my hon. Friend is our trade envoy. Total exports to CARICOM—the Caribbean Community—were worth £1.5 billion in the 12 months to September 2020, and I am sure he is actively looking for new opportunities to use those trade deals to benefit people in the Caribbean and here in the United Kingdom.

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

What assessment she has made of the potential merits for UK businesses of the UK joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. (912433)

Joining the CPTPP is a massive opportunity for UK businesses. It will cut tariffs for vital industries such as cars and whisky, and it will help drive an exports-led, jobs-led recovery from covid.

As opposed to the flat EU markets, we know that CPTPP markets are emerging and growing, giving huge tariff-free opportunities for those that join, so for my barley barons of North Norfolk, may I ask the Secretary of State what wonderful opportunities for growth access to these markets gives us?

I know my hon. Friend was delighted with our Japan deal, which gave more access for malt in the Japanese market, where we are the second largest exporter of malt. We will be looking for more such opportunities under the CPTPP for malt and whisky, to make sure that the barley barons continue to do well.

Will the Secretary of State explain the recent comments from her top adviser on trade and agriculture, Mr Shanker Singham? He said:

“I think it would be fantastic to get the EU into the CPTPP”,

which is interesting, but not as interesting as what he said next. He said that the EU

“would not be able to join at the moment…With their approach on agriculture and standards, it is impossible for them to accede.”

Can the Secretary of State explain what he means?

I do not know what Mr Singham means. He is an adviser to the Government; he is not the Government. The important point is that now we have left the European Union, we have an opportunity to develop more innovative policies in areas such as agriculture. For example, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recently launched a consultation on gene editing. We will be able to use new technologies to benefit farmers in Britain and across the world—technologies that historically the EU was averse to.

I do not really think that gene editing was the answer to the question. The question was: what does Mr Singham mean? Perhaps I can help. I think he means that joining the CPTPP not only means eliminating tariffs on meat exports from other member states; it also means abandoning the precautionary principle when we decide which meat imports to allow. If the Secretary of State disagrees on that, perhaps she will answer this: under the terms that she is proposing to join the trans-Pacific partnership, will Britain have the right to ban the import of meat produced using growth-promoting antibiotics?

I am sure that the right hon. Lady, being an avid student of the CPTPP, will have read the fact that the same standards on SPS—sanitary and phytosanitary—are in the CPTPP as are in the World Trade Organisation, which the UK has already signed up to. I have been very clear that in every trade deal we sign, we will not lower our excellent standards in the United Kingdom, and we will not expose our farmers to unfair competition.

Growth for British Businesses

What recent assessment she has made of the potential effect of her Department’s trade policies on growth for British businesses. (912434)

The Department’s trade policies aim to support growth, productivity and jobs for British businesses. The OECD estimates that 6.6 million UK workers were supported by exports in 2015. In addition, the Department’s recently published impact assessment shows that the UK-Japan free trade agreement could increase UK GDP by £1.5 billion in the long run compared with trading under WTO terms.

Given that the St David’s day debate is being held this afternoon, will the Minister comment on his Department’s activities in promoting exports by Welsh companies, such as Ifor Williams Trailers, AE Sewing Machines in Ruabon, and the Rhug Estate’s famous Welsh beef and lamb in my constituency of Clwyd South?

It is never too early to celebrate St David’s day and the doughty exporters of Clwyd South, as well as the rest of the Principality. We are lowering barriers to Welsh exporters through trade deals, supporting them through staff in 119 countries, organising trade missions, providing online resources and championing them at international events. We have a long-standing relationship with the Rhug Estate, and we continue to support Welsh produce in particular, as part of both the Food is GREAT campaign and the Open Doors campaign, announced with fanfare only this week by the Secretary of State.

As the Government continue to hide the overall effect of their trade policies, the first official estimate from the European Commission shows that this Government’s Brexit deal will cost the UK at least 2.25% of GDP by the end of next year. In addition, two out of three supply chain managers report experiencing import delays of two to three days. Is that why the Minister is going so far to remove questions and avoid scrutiny of this disastrous Brexit deal in the Chamber? If he denies that, will he now publish the impact assessments prepared for his Government, which have so far been hidden away from those who deserve to know the real costs to business and families?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are certainly not avoiding scrutiny; we are just directing it to where it rightly should go. He knows all about those who are seeking genuinely to avoid scrutiny. As I have been double-Drewed today, I pay tribute to the efforts he makes. All I will say as a final point—before I am cut short yet again by Mr Speaker, quite rightly, and even as I lose my attention because I am barracked so often by the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)—is that he voted no deal, so it is odd for him to be complaining so much.

Northern Ireland opposed Brexit, but it has happened. The protocol is its outworking, and it has to be made to work. The SDLP is determined to maximise the opportunities available to this region from being the crossroads between the UK and EU markets. We have written to the Minister seeking support in promoting Northern Ireland and this unique access. Will he commit his Department to promoting Northern Ireland to investors who are seeking access to both the EU and UK markets?

I commend the hon. Lady’s positive attitude. She is absolutely right: whatever our views on Brexit, we have to get on, make the most of it and support our businesses, as she is doing, and I can give her that commitment. We will absolutely work with her and Invest Northern Ireland, which does a fantastic job in conjunction with DIT to promote both investment into Northern Ireland and exports from it.

I am no longer shadow Minister, but happy to be contributing to this debate, Mr Speaker.

Moon Climbing, a specialist rock climbing supplier in my constituency, tells me how, since January, new barriers have damaged its trade with Europe. In line with the advice of DIT officials, it set up a base in the Netherlands to avoid the barriers and it anticipates that that will

“be our main base from which we service both the EU and the rest of the world”.

I heard the Minister and the Secretary of State say earlier that it is nothing to do with them, but, frankly, companies expect the Department for International Trade to take some responsibility for trade, so what are they doing to prevent more UK businesses moving abroad as a result of the damaging Brexit deal—losing UK jobs, GDP and tax revenue?

The British people decided to leave the European Union. We are supporting businesses, in Europe and beyond, but it is not overly complicated to accept that it is the Cabinet Office and the unit led by Lord David Frost that are taking responsibility for those negotiations. However, we work actively, and we run webinars with thousands attending, and I and other Ministers participate in those to give people the tools to overcome the frictions that inevitably result from our departure. I am pleased to say they are declining over time, and I am confident that we will return to where we were in 2019, when we were the only top 10 exporting nation in the world to see our exports rise and, the hon. Member will be delighted to hear, we overtook France to become the fifth largest exporter in the world.

Free Trade Agreement: Australia

The UK and Australia held the third round of negotiations for a free trade agreement between 23 November and 4 December. Discussions reached an early milestone of exchanging initial tariff offers, showing the momentum behind the negotiations. The fourth round of negotiations began this week and is live as we speak.

The Trade and Agriculture Commission report will be out next week. How does the Department see incorporating that in the deal with the Australians to make sure that we can maintain these high standards of imported food that meet our standards when we are doing a deal with Australia?

I thank the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for that question. I know he takes a very keen interest and we also await with equal interest the publication of the report next week. It would not be proper to prejudge what may or may not be in the report, but it is clear that we are doing everything possible to support our food and drink exports. Returning to the question of Australia, we actually have a food and drink surplus with Australia. We are looking to get more market access and to promote more agricultural exports to Australia, which I know will come with great welcome from him and the EFRA Committee.

Scottish Exports to US: Tariffs

What steps she is taking to seek a reduction on the US tariffs applied on the export of Scotch whisky from the UK to the US. (912449)

We have been working hard to de-escalate this conflict and get punitive tariffs removed on both sides of the Atlantic. This is the way forward, not escalating the tariff battle.

US barriers to trade have been broken down in the past to the benefit of Scottish jobs, and this includes the great work of the UK Government to get Scotch beef back in American supermarkets for the first time in two decades. Does the Secretary of State envisage similar success in removing US tariffs to help cashmere mills in the Scottish borders and Scotch whisky distillers to export to American customers?

My hon. Friend has been a huge champion for Scottish goods such as cashmere and whisky. These tariffs are damaging on both sides of the Atlantic. Today, we are seeing the confirmation hearing of the new US trade representative, and as soon as that is finished I will be on the phone to her seeking an early resolution of these issues.

Despite the pandemic, we have seen a rise in consumption of spirits in North America; this is taking account of the fact that there is a 25% tariff in place for Scotch whisky. There is a danger that some of the alternatives—for example, Canadian whisky or Irish whiskey—could move into that space, and that is damaging for all of us who support the Scotch whisky industry, so has the Prime Minister raised this with President Biden?

I can assure the hon. Member that the Prime Minister is exercised about this issue, as am I, and we are working flat out to get an agreement to make sure that these tariffs are removed.

EU VAT Regulations under DDP Terms

What steps her Department is taking to assist British small and medium-sized enterprise exporters with EU VAT regulations under delivered duty paid terms. (912443)

While VAT in the UK is a matter for the Treasury, and in the EU it is the responsibility of member states, my Department is aware of SMEs feeling pressured to supply on a delivered duty paid basis. That is a matter for commercial decision between contracting parties, but none the less, we provide support for SMEs through our international trade adviser network, and just last week we held a webinar as part of the UK Export Academy dealing with Incoterms in general, of which DDP forms part.

Many SMEs have EU clients that are themselves SMEs, which understandably do not wish to be importers and thus take on extra regulatory burdens. Due to the insistence on DDP terms, UK exporters have to try to reclaim EU VAT. I hear what the Minister says about different responsibilities and so on, but in his co-ordinating and supportive role, will he agree to meet me and representatives of the British Promotional Merchandise Association, to hear at first hand the difficulties that its members are having and to explore solutions, even if they are cross-departmental?

In a belated attempt to score some points with Mr Speaker, I will simply say that I would be delighted to do so.

Topical Questions

Earlier this month, I submitted the UK’s formal application to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership. Joining CPTPP will put us at the heart of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and slash tariffs for key industries such as cars and whisky. Membership of this high-standards agreement comes with no strings attached, with no requirement to cede control over our laws, our borders or our money. Joining will help propel a jobs-led, export-led, investment-led recovery from covid across our United Kingdom.

I thank my right hon. Friend for all her hard work flying the Union flag with pride around the world. There has never been a more important time to champion the exporting potential of British business, so will she enable the Department for International Trade to partner with me so that I can ensure that the Potteries’ world-leading ceramic tableware manufacturers, such as Churchill China and Steelite, based in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, can benefit from support for exciting exporting opportunities?

We recently launched the parliamentary export programme, through which MPs can partner with DIT, and we will shortly be recruiting a second cohort of MPs; I know that the Exports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), already has my hon. Friend’s name on the list. I also invite my hon. Friend to join our virtual Japan mega-mission, which is being led by the Exports Minister in the next couple of weeks and will bring Stoke-on-Trent firms in contact with Japanese companies so that they can sell their fantastic goods.

Can the Secretary of State say when the review of procedures for the resolution of investment disputes between investors and states in the UK-Canada agreement on trade continuity will take place, and how the views of Parliament and the public will be taken into account in the review? (912498)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am working very closely with my Canadian colleague, Mary Ng, to make sure that that happens as soon as possible.

As we embark on our recovery from covid-19 in the post-EU era, will my hon. Friend provide the assurance that businesses in Bracknell need, and will he please outline what measures have been considered to improve the attractiveness of British exports? (912490)

Bracknell businesses should be assured that we have a plethora of new initiatives to whet their exporting appetites. We are committed to helping businesses realise their economic potential through exports, and we provide a comprehensive global system of support to help them do so. There are a range of initiatives that enhance UK exporting, including our international export hubs, the £38 million internationalisation fund providing grants, and UK Export Finance’s general export facility, another new initiative, all of which combine to help upskill firms, build their capability and finance everyday costs.

One of my Saddleworth constituents who runs a small import-export business in woollen goods has told me of the difficulties that his business is facing, including that there is no customs clearance agent in the UK who will take on new clients. This is in spite of the fact that he was told, prior to Christmas, that this would not be an issue. As I speak, he has bulk export products delayed in Madrid and Milan airports, Dublin port, at the Greece and Turkey border and in Tokyo. He says that the cash flow implications for his businesses will be very damaging. This, of course, is all within six weeks of Brexit, a situation that he feels will eventually cripple his 19-year-old business. He asked me, and I ask the Trade Secretary in turn: why is this such a mess, and where are the grassy uplands that the Government promised? (912502)

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will try to be as quick in my response.

I will pass on the hon. Lady’s concerns to the Cabinet Office. The Government have invested considerably in customs and clearance agents. I refer her and her constituent’s company to the different helplines that are available both from us at DIT and, most particularly, from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Border and Protocol Delivery Group to provide practical assistance for her constituents.

It was good to see the Government’s new Open Doors food and drink export campaign launched this week at the National Farmers Union conference, but I was rather surprised to see that only one in five food manufacturers sell overseas at the moment. Will the Minister tell me how producers in Hampshire can take advantage of our new international opportunities and trade deals through Open Doors and what support is available? (912491)

The simple answer is for them to go to There are educational masterclasses, meet the buyer events and the opportunity to send samples of their products to overseas buyers in specially selected hampers. Those are just some of the activities open to Hampshire businesses.

With the Biden Administration announcing plans to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the UK is isolated on the world stage as it continues to sell arms to this barbaric regime. Will the Minister explain how this Government can claim to have the most effective export regime in the world when it has the moral stain of being virtually isolated in the world in its obstinate support for Saudi Arabia, which is a serial human rights violator? (912506)

As I said earlier, we have one of the most robust systems in the world for arms export controls. All exports are governed by the consolidated criteria, and we have a proud record in this country of upholding our values. In the 19th century, we abolished slavery. In the 1990s, we were peacekeepers in the Balkans. We have always played our role in the world and we will continue to do so.

It was brilliant to welcome the Secretary of State to Keighley when she met Tony Day from Marrose Abrasives; they are export champions, with products going worldwide. We have many brilliant manufacturing businesses in Keighley that are hungry for growth opportunities around the world. I would welcome suggestions on how they can get involved and influence future trade arrangements so that we can make exporting easier. (912492)

Is not it fantastic to hear that genuine enthusiasm for business, jobs and the prosperity that results? What a shame we do not hear it from the Opposition. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State enjoyed her visit to Marrose Abrasives, and there are many opportunities before our negotiations with New Zealand, Australia and the United States. We have conducted public consultations. We have trade advisory groups, so through representative organisations and others, we are open every day to hear from businesses such as Marrose and make sure that their voice is heard and drives our trade policy objectives.

This month’s figures show that the UK authorised arms sales worth almost £1.4 billion to Saudi Arabia. In the same month, the UN warned that the conflict in Yemen had taken a sharp escalatory turn. As several other Members have asked, will the Minister please explain why he has not followed the lead of his counterparts in the US and Italy and halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia? Does he agree that this behaviour has actively undermined efforts on peace talks? (912508)

As I have said, we do have a robust arms export control policy in Britain, and it is absolutely right that we maintain our own independent policy. The policies of the United States are a matter for the United States.

The strong British pound and economy attracted significant foreign investment when the UK was a member of the EU. Can my right hon. Friend outline the steps that are being taken to ensure that, as we come out of the EU and out of the pandemic, the UK becomes an even more attractive place to invest, increasing quality jobs and helping to turbocharge our economy? (912493)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right; the UK is a great place to invest. The UK was the first major economy to make a breakthrough in attracting foreign investment, under Margaret Thatcher, now four decades ago. The UK has remained an extremely attractive place to invest since. In November the Prime Minister announced a new Office for Investment, jointly led by No. 10 and the Department for International Trade.

As our economy looks to recover from covid-19, there are businesses in my constituency that can expand globally. Will my hon. Friend outline what steps the Department is taking to help not just large companies but SMEs to access global markets? Will he join me in encouraging businesses in the Vale of Clwyd to attend the first local parliamentary export programme event on 4 March? (912494)

SMEs are vital to increasing UK trade, which is why we are seeking SME chapters in all our free trade agreements, and we provide a vast range of support for them. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a trailblazer for the parliamentary export programme, and I encourage businesspeople in the Vale of Clwyd to attend the virtual meetings that he is organising, chairing and using to ensure that his local companies get all the international sales support that Government can offer.

Does the Minister agree that we cannot remain silent or indifferent to the worst crimes and atrocities, whether against the Rohingyas in Myanmar, the Uyghurs in China or people anywhere else in the world? Will she guarantee that the Government, although not supporting the genocide amendment that is coming to the House soon, will at least stop playing political games and allow a straight vote on the matter? (912517)

I agree with the hon. Lady that the atrocities committed by China in Xinjiang are abhorrent. The Government have taken firm action on supply chains and businesses doing business in that part of China, but expanding the role of the UK courts raises serious constitutional issues, and instead the issue needs to be addressed politically.

Are we using our position at the World Trade Organisation to counter reprehensible trading practices by China and others? (912496)

I thank my right hon. Friend. He is right to identify these unfair practices in world trade. Put simply, for far too long, China has not been transparent, with practices such as industrial subsidies for state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfers and claiming special differential treatment. We will continue to work at the WTO and with G7 democracies to tighten up the rules and ensure that they are properly enforced.

I suspend the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements for the next item of business to be made.

Sitting suspended.