The Secretary of State was asked—
Trade Agreements: SMEs
Employing 17 million people and generating £2.3 trillion in turnover, small and medium-sized enterprises are vital to increasing UK trade. That is why we are continuing to seek SME chapters and SME-friendly provisions throughout all our free trade agreements. Outside the SME chapter, the wider benefits of the agreements—for example, reducing customs costs, supporting intellectual property rights, facilitating mutual recognition of professional qualifications and increasing regulatory transparency—will help to level the field between SMEs and large businesses.
Small and medium-sized farms across the country are rightly worried that this weekend’s agreement with Australia and the precedent it will set for future trade deals will not just undermine their business but destroy them. Last November, the Minister of State promised these farmers that the new trade and agriculture commission would mean that
“all the National Farmers Unions…will play an active role in assessing trade agreements going forward”—[Official Report, 17 November 2020; Vol. 684, c. 190.]—
and that as a consequence the farming industry’s interests would be “advanced and protected” by the TAC. Does he stand by those statements today?
I thank the right hon. Lady for those questions and I absolutely stand by that. We are involving NFUs from all four nations; I have met NFU Scotland’s Martin Kennedy twice in recent weeks. We are confident that the new trade and agriculture commission will be up and running in good time for it to conduct its statutory review of the Australia free trade agreement.
I thank the Minister for that answer but the British farming industry knows the truth: the trade and agriculture commission it was promised to defend the interests of British farmers is not the one advertised by the Government this week, and my question to the Minister of State is simply this: why? What are the Government so scared of? If they are confident that their deal with Australia will benefit British farmers, not undermine them, why do they not have the courage of their convictions and establish the trade and agriculture commission on the basis that farmers were promised last November and let the voice of British farming deliver its verdict on the deal?
We—myself, the Secretary of State and the whole of the Department for International Trade—listen very carefully, of course, to the voices of British farmers. The Secretary of State opened expressions of interest to become members of the trade and agriculture commission just this week. It is very important to understand that the role of the commission never has been to advise on negotiations; its role will be as debated and approved during the passage of the Trade Act 2021 and the Agriculture Act 2020, and we are looking forward to seeing its scrutiny later this year.
Many happy returns to you today, Mr Speaker.
SMEs make up the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry and the Minister likes to talk about whisky, so let us talk about the reality for the industry resulting from the Government’s trade policy. Speyside Distillery, winner of best whisky at the world whisky awards, tells me that sales are dramatically down since Brexit and that this Government’s awful Brexit deal has led to the cost of its goods going up by a fifth—up 12% on glass and up 7% on cardboard—and increased shipping costs and delays. Extra paperwork alone is costing it 33p per case. It tells me that a deal with Australia will not even scratch the sides of its substantial losses from Brexit, so what additional support and compensation will the Government pay to distilleries such as Speyside for these losses?
I am delighted to hear the Scottish National party raise the subject of whisky, because it did not do so in the urgent question two weeks ago on the Australia trade deal. I remind SNP Members that Scotch whisky currently faces tariffs going into Australia; it is one of Scotch whisky’s most important markets and is a growing market even during the pandemic. In terms of trade volumes with the European Union, we are continuing to see a recovery in the data. This is of course volatile data, but none the less there was a 46% increase in exports to the EU in February and a further 9% increase in March. Further data will be coming out in due course.
As ever, when presented with the realities the Minister just spins into Brexit fantasy. They just do not care about Scottish businesses. There is a good reason why the SNP has never supported Westminster’s trade policy, and that is because Scotland’s needs are always ignored. The UK Government said fishing was expendable during the EU negotiations in the ’70s, their Brexit obsession dragged us out of the world’s largest single market, and now they are betraying our farmers and crofters all while capitulating on standards in animal welfare. They do not listen to Scotland and they do not care about Scotland, but is the Minister aware that they are being found out in Scotland?
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has been listening carefully enough to what I have been saying to him about the SNP and trade deals. It is not just Westminster trade deals that he and his colleagues have rejected; they have even rejected the trade deals negotiated previously by the European Union. He has pledged to rejoin the EU, in which case Scotland would become immediately subject to those trade deals. He also wishes to rejoin the common fisheries policy, which would be completely against the interest of fishers right across Scotland.
The SNP has never supported any trade deal. It has been against the Canada and South Africa deals, and it has not supported the Japan or Singapore deals. It is simply anti-business, anti-trade and against the interests of the Scotch whisky industry and of Scottish fishers.
Trade Agreements: US, Canada and New Zealand
We are making significant progress with our free trade agreement negotiations. We have just launched a consultation on the new, improved trade agreement with Canada, we are in the final stages of our FTA with New Zealand, and we are in the midst of resolving the Airbus-Boeing dispute with the US.
Next week we have the New Zealand Trade Minister, Damien O’Connor, coming to the UK, and we are working on a gold-standard agreement that will give us more access to Pacific markets at the same time as further deepening our economic relationship with a long-standing and trusted partner.
Happy birthday from Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Mr Speaker.
The point of trade deals is economic growth, but as the Secretary of State well knows, the trade deals with the US, Canada and New Zealand will make up only about 4% of the Brexit damage. However, signing a Swiss-style sanitary and phytosanitary agreement could achieve greater economic growth, would not threaten farming as the Australian trade deal does, would sort out the Northern Ireland protocol sausage situation and would prevent the Prime Minister from getting spoken to like a naughty schoolboy by the President of the United States. Given those four advantages, has she considered lifting her pen and signing a Swiss-style SPS agreement to make things a whole lot better on a number of fronts?
My colleague Lord Frost is clear that we need to see pragmatism from the EU to resolve this issue. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to acknowledge that the parts of the world where we are striking deals, whether Asia-Pacific with the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership or countries such as India and those in the Gulf, are the fast-growing parts of the world. He is living in a static past; we are living in a dynamic future.
English Language Teaching
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.
Recognising the challenges that the sector faces, both I and my co-chair of the education sector advisory group, the Minister for Universities, continue to engage with colleagues across Government to explore options for further support.
The English language is arguably this country’s most successful export. Covid has of course devastated the sector, and with the international scene still challenging, the impact goes on and is deep and wide even as other sectors recover. Will my hon. Friend meet me, a delegation of MPs and officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to work together to overcome the challenges that the sector faces and safeguard the future of this vital export, which is so important to Eastbourne and to the UK?
Free Trade Agreements
We have signed trade deals covering 67 countries and the European Union, we are making good progress with like-minded friends and allies such as New Zealand and Australia, and we will shortly launch negotiations to join the trans-Pacific partnership, worth £9 trillion of GDP.
Penblwydd hapus, Mr Speaker. On 6 November, the Secretary of State told the National Farmers Union of Wales:
“We have no intention of ever striking a deal that doesn’t benefit farmers, but we have provided checks and balances in the form of the Trade and Agriculture Commission”.
May I ask her if the commission will have the power to tell Parliament whether her Australia deal benefits Welsh farmers, or is she breaking the promise that she made only seven months ago?
I assure the hon. Lady that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be up and running to fully scrutinise the Australia trade deal. As set out in the Agriculture Act 2020, the TAC will look at whether FTAs
“are consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection”
“animal or plant life or health…animal welfare, and…the environment.”
That is what Parliament supported in the Agriculture Act and the Trade Act 2021.
On 6 October, the Secretary of State said:
“A lot of farmers would consider it unfair if practices that are banned in the UK because of animal welfare reasons are allowed elsewhere and those products are allowed to come in and undercut the standards that our farmers are asked to follow. I agree with that. I think that’s an important principle.”
That is what she said, so may I simply ask the Secretary of State whether she still stands by that principle in the context of her proposed deal with Australia?
I have always been clear that we will not allow our farmers, with their high animal welfare standards, to be undermined by unfair competition from elsewhere. The right hon. Lady will be well aware that Australian beef and lamb is already able to come into the United Kingdom under our current import rules.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but if I may, I will give her a specific example. The practice of mulesing is illegal in Britain but is in common use in Australia, not just in the wool industry, but in meat. Lambs at six weeks old are held down without pain relief and have the skin from their buttocks gouged out to prevent the scar tissue that grows back bearing wool. My simple question to her is this: under her proposed trade deal with Australia, will tariffs be reduced on meat produced on sheep farms that use the practice of mulesing?
We are still in negotiations about the final stage of the deal, but I can assure the right hon. Lady that British farmers, with their high animal welfare standards, will not be undermined. I am sure she is aware of World Trade Organisation rules that prevent discrimination on the basis of production methods, and what she seems to be advocating is leaving the World Trade Organisation. By the way, she might be interested to know that foie gras is already banned in Australia.
Unfair Trading Practices
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. The United Kingdom now has a fully operational trade remedies system that can take action if foreign subsidies harm British businesses. In addition, last month, my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary chaired a meeting of G7 Trade Ministers that called for the start of negotiations to develop stronger international rules on market-distorting subsidies and trade-distorting actions by state-owned enterprises, such as the forced transfer of technology.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. With nine out of 10 of the largest Chinese firms being state-owned enterprises, it is clear that the international rulebook is not keeping up with the latest players’ tactics. I do not want to see—I do not think anyone here wants to see—British businesses undercut. Will the Minister elaborate on what more we can do, working with like-minded allies in the WTO and the G7, to tackle these unfair practices?
My hon. Friend is right that global trading rules have not adapted to take account of China’s growth or its different economic model, so Britain cannot, and will not, allow her businesses to be damaged or undercut by those who do not play by the rules, such as through the non-transparent granting of different forms of industrial subsidies. We will work with like-minded partners at the G7, the G20, the WTO and elsewhere to address the harmful impacts of these unfair practices.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. The Trade Remedies Authority has made a deeply flawed recommendation to withdraw half of all the safeguards on steel. If the recommendation is implemented, it is likely to lead to a flood of steel imports, with potentially disastrous consequences for the steel industry, communities and livelihoods. The Government’s own regulations do not allow them to retain the safeguards unless the Trade Remedies Authority advises them to do so. The Secretary of State has already said that the regulations need to be reviewed, so will Ministers accept our offer to work together to find a way to retain these vital safeguards and, in so doing, live up to the commitment made by the Trade Secretary to do whatever it takes to protect our steel industry?
I am delighted to hear what the shadow Minister says, but what he is asking for, which is the imposition of measures against the independent recommendation of the TRA, is not within the Secretary of State’s powers today. In fact, his party argued that the Secretary of State should have fewer powers when the legislation was going through the House under the last Government. It wanted to curtail her powers further, and it was robust on that. We will not hesitate to defend British industry; that is our policy. The world has changed since 2018, when these powers were put in place, and the Trade Secretary is exploring what else might be needed in Britain’s toolkit to defend British industry.
Australia Trade Agreement: Buckinghamshire
There will be opportunities for businesses across Buckinghamshire as part of the 2,600 businesses in the south-east that were already exporting goods to Australia last year. They are set to benefit from action on tariffs in areas such as cars, food and drink, and machinery, and there will be benefits in services, including digital, data and innovation provisions that will future-proof the FTA for businesses in Buckinghamshire and across the United Kingdom.
Many happy returns, Mr Speaker. I thank the Minister for his answer. Buckinghamshire has more microbusinesses than any other county in the country, so now that we are a free sovereign trading nation once again, what help can my right hon. Friend give to those very small businesses that want to export to Australia but might not yet have the expertise and experience to do so?
I am well aware of the situation in Buckinghamshire; my father set up a microbusiness in Buckinghamshire 40-odd years ago. I can tell my hon. Friend that our refreshed export strategy will raise the exporting culture of the UK, taking advantage of our new independent trade policy by providing SMEs and micro-businesses across Buckinghamshire with new opportunities to build their exporting capability in both goods and services, to enhance support, to strengthen one-to-many digital services and to improve access to finance.
Trade Deals: Human Rights
The United Kingdom has long supported the promotion of her values globally. We are clear that more trade does not need to come at the expense of rights or responsibilities, and although our approach to agreements will vary between partners, our strong economic relationships allow us to have open discussions on a range of issues.
Penblwydd hapus, Mr Speaker. Given the ongoing violations of international law by the Israeli Government, the attacks on the human rights of the Palestinian people and their suffering, and Israel’s recent bombardment of the Gaza strip in May, in which more than 240 Palestinians, over a quarter of them children, were killed, thousands more were injured and more than 90,000 people displaced, does the Minister agree that it is now essential that there is an investigation into whether UK-made arms or components have been used in the recent violence and destruction of homes, businesses and health facilities in Gaza? In the meantime, will the Government immediately cease the export of arms to Israel?
Every Israeli and Palestinian has the right to live in peace and security. We understand the deep frustration on all sides at the lack of progress in the middle east peace process. The ongoing violence just underlines that a lasting resolution that ends these problems is long overdue. In respect of our arms exports, we have a robust arms export control process in the United Kingdom that is governed by the consolidated criteria, and no exports occur where the consolidated criteria are not met.
The UK’s deal with Cameroon will complete its ratification process today, with no vote by MPs and no apparent concern from Ministers about the abuse that is taking place in that country. Can I ask the Minister whether he thinks the US Government were wrong to end preferential trade with Cameroon because of the Biya regime’s abuses, and if not, why are we ratifying a deal to do the opposite?
The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), spoke in an Adjournment debate yesterday on this topic, and the Opposition could, of course, have used an Opposition day debate on this area. We have a strong history of protecting rights around the world, promoting our values globally, and we will continue to do so. By having an economic partnership agreement in place and encouraging trade, we are continuing to support some of the most vulnerable people in Cameroon, providing valuable employment and helping to lift them out of poverty.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.
“Mass torture”, “rape” and “forced sterilisation”—that is the testimony of dozens of survivors at the Uyghur tribunal in London, which is chaired by the former lead prosecutor at The Hague, Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC. Does the Minister really think the British Government should be turning a blind eye to the suffering of the human race for the sake of trade deals?
We have not. We have proven our leadership and commitment time and again. We have ramped up pressure on China in multilateral forums. We are taking targeted action on supply chains and our approach to China remains clear-eyed: we remain rooted in our values and in our interests. The truth is that we have announced a series of measures to help make sure that British businesses and the public sector are in no way complicit in the rights violations in Xinjiang, and that includes making sure there is a review of export controls as they apply to the situation there.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. The English-speaking population in Cameroon faces mass killings, atrocities and torture. As we have heard, the US has now invoked trade sanctions, but the UK has signed a trade deal without parliamentary approval. So can I ask: has the EU’s essential rights clause now been removed from all future trade deals, so that abuses, however abhorrent and widespread, will now be supported by the British economy through secret deals, thereby taking control back from Parliament and giving it to those with blood on their hands?
I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman is referring to in respect of secret deals. This is an agreement that the EU had originally. We have continued an agreement here to provide certainty to businesses in both countries and to date the EU has not taken measures against Cameroon—I know how fond he is of the EU.
In response to the Adjournment debate last night, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, told the House in relation to Cameroon that
“Violence does appear to have decreased in recent months compared with the peak of the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 1070.]
as if the fact that the Biya regime is killing and maiming fewer of its citizens was justification for our trade deal with them. Is it really the Government’s position that it is fine to do trade deals with murderous regimes if they are now killing fewer of their own people than they were?
The British people will have noticed that I have now answered five questions from Labour Members on future trade agreements and, instead of seeking to secure benefits for their constituents on those deals, they are clutching at straws to stop them. The Labour party is hopelessly out of touch. This Conservative Government are focused on delivering for the British people. Unlike Labour, we have a plan for jobs and growth, and trade is central to that. We have secured trade deals with 67 countries around the world, plus the EU, covering trade worth £730 billion last year—and we are just getting started.
UK Steel Exports
We are working to de-escalate trade tensions that negatively impact steel exporters, including our pursuit of a permanent resolution to the US section 232 tariffs, which so unfairly harm the UK steel industry. I am pleased to say that in terms of the EU we have agreed tariff-rate quota allocations for UK steel exports, without which the industry could have been hit by a 25% tariff and an estimated cost of £80 million in the first half of this year alone.
Another penblwydd hapus to you, Mr Speaker.
The greatest step that Ministers can take to protect our exports is to protect our steel industry as a whole. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) asked earlier, will Ministers commit to working with Labour on a cross-party basis, as was promised in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, to fix deficiencies in our trade remedies legislation and reverse the recommendations from the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate that UK Steel has called “a hammer blow” to our industry?
The TRA has conducted a full review of the steel safeguard measure so that it applies to the UK in a proportionate and WTO-compliant manner. It is an independent body, as the hon. Lady knows, that provides unbiased evidence-based assessments of the need for remedies. For clarity, the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] It would be great to get through one answer without chuntering from the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), but it seems to be impossible. The Secretary of State can only accept or reject the TRA recommendation as a whole; she cannot modify or partially accept it and she cannot extend the measure if the TRA does not recommend it. However, it is crucial that the Government have the correct tools available to allow them to tackle unfair trade, and the Secretary of State will be giving careful consideration to the trade remedies framework and the powers that it affords her.
G7 Summit: Trade Priorities
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker; I am sorry that I did not mention it earlier.
Penblwydd hapus, Mr Speaker.
Ahead of the G7, the Prime Minister has said that climate is his top priority, yet the Department for International Trade is still funnelling billions—including £3.5 billion from UK Export Finance—into overseas fossil-fuel projects and dirty projects are still being considered, despite the promise to end them. The Prime Minister himself flies into Cornwall on a private jet to talk climate. How can this Government expect to be taken seriously as a climate leader on the biggest threat facing us when they clearly do not take the issue seriously themselves?
I refute what the hon. Lady just said. We have changed the rules that govern UK Export Finance to make sure that it is focused solely on financing clean-energy projects, and that is alongside other measures that support our zero-carbon objectives. We are also working hard at the World Trade Organisation and through the G7 to make trade greener and to make sure that zero carbon is part of how the global trading system works.
Labour has backed an intellectual property waiver on vaccines to help with the pandemic in the poorest countries. The US agrees, as do the majority of world leaders, but the UK remains steadfastly against the plan. With the G7 giving us the opportunity for breakthrough this weekend, will the Secretary of State tell us why she will not support this life-saving initiative?
I am very proud that the UK Government funded research into the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is now producing 98% of the 49 million covid vaccines delivered right around the world. We have played a leading role in that. I am interested in practical measures that have real effect, such as voluntary licensing agreements. If there is any evidence that intellectual property waivers could help, I am all ears and interested to hear it, but we cannot have a regime that destroys intellectual property rights and ends up stopping future innovation.
With all due respect to the Secretary of State, boosting the overall global supply of vaccines is key to get global trade going, secure British jobs and help our allies in the Commonwealth and the developing world. In these exceptional times, why did Britain, as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) said, refuse to support at the World Trade Organisation yesterday—presumably on the Secretary of State’s instruction—allies of ours such as America, India and South Africa, and many other countries, and to back a temporary waiver of patents on covid vaccines?
As I have said, the UK is always willing to listen to pragmatic suggestions about how we make the regime work better. For example, we have supported the abolition of export restrictions—many other countries have not—so that we can see goods flow around the world. The fact is that the real changes are being made by voluntary licensing, as we have enabled at the Serum Institute in India. We are part of the third-way work to roll out practical answers. There is no IP waiver proposal on the table that would actually deliver more vaccines to the poorest people in the world, which is what we want to achieve.
Free Trade Agreement: Australia
Following two days of intensive discussions during the visit of Dan Tehan, the Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, on 22 and 23 April, both sides reached consensus on most elements of a comprehensive free trade agreement. The UK and Australia are now working to agree the outstanding elements, with the aim of reaching agreement in principle this month.
I am speaking from Lincolnshire, the bread basket of England. It is a prosperous county, but in the area of world free trade before the second world war, we could walk on derelict farms from Lincoln to Grimsby. Can the Minister assure me that this free trade deal with Australia, which I welcome, will ensure a bright future for our farmers, and that there will be no relaxation of our high-quality standards and no imports of mass-produced wheat that could undercut our farmers?
My right hon. Friend is quite right to point to the brilliance of the Lincolnshire farmers and their industry in helping both to feed this country and to export. We have been absolutely clear that, when it comes to trade deals, there will be no compromise on our standards, food safety, animal welfare and the environment. I agree that there is an opportunity here for Lincolnshire to be exporting more. We have secured more access last week in the Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein deal. We are looking forward to joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has big opportunities for UK agriculture and future free trade agreements going forward.
Australia Trade Agreement: Scottish Farming
This is a deal for the whole Union. Our scoping assessment found that Scotland will benefit in all modelled scenarios. Reducing tariff barriers for our world-class food and drink industry should help bolster exports of iconic Scottish goods to Australia, such as Scotch whisky, apparel and services, such as financial services. Once we accede to CPTPP, Scottish farmers will also gain access to the increasing middle class in Asia.
Australia’s red meat industry has the goal of doubling its sales by 2030, which requires access to UK markets. That expansion can only come, despite what the Government say, at the expense of domestic producers and standards. What absolute minimum SPS, bio-security and welfare standards will the Government insist on in any Australian trade deal to safeguard producers and consumers, and to ensure that our farmers are not simply the next industry to be thrown beneath the wheels of the Brexit bus?
I have met with NFU Scotland a few times in recent weeks. To be honest, it would be nice to hear the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues for once sticking up for agriculture in Scotland and the opportunities that come from trade, rather than being against every single trade agreement. Australia apparently exports a lot to Asia—75% of its beef exports, 70% of its lamb exports—and only 0.15% to the UK. There are strong reasons for that. The production costs, for beef in particular, are much higher in countries such as Japan and Korea than they are in either the UK or in Australia. Staged over time, tariff reductions and making sure that safeguards are in place, we are confident that we will have the ability to protect UK farmers from any unforeseen increases in Australian imports to this country.
I wish you a very happy birthday, Mr Speaker.
Currently, the UK does not have specific legislation to ban meat from animals raised by inhumane methods such as battery cages—methods that are utterly intolerable here but permitted and used extensively in Australia. The Department for International Trade has also never set out if or how it might inspect animal welfare and food standards in countries with which we may sign new post-Brexit trade deals. Does the Minister truly believe that the people of Scotland are prepared to see food on their supermarket shelves reared in appalling conditions, all for the additional 0.1% to 0.2% of GDP over 15 years as per his Department’s own assessment?
I have never heard the SNP support any trade deal, ever. SNP Members even voted for a no-deal Brexit last December. The hon. Member mentioned standards. We have been absolutely clear that there will be no compromise on our standards. However, Australia, in its standards on animal welfare, is actually ranked five out of five by the World Organisation for Animal Health for its performance in veterinary services across 38 categories. The hon. Member talks about meeting our standards; our import standards remain high, and will be unchanged as a result of this or any other trade agreement. Australian produce—as, indeed, other produce—must continue to meet our high import standards.
Domestic Battery Development
We recognise the importance of domestic battery development and manufacturing, which is why we have engaged with business to understand its needs and ensure that our free trade agreements deliver. That includes negotiating rules of origin that consider the transition to electric vehicles and enable British manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan to access global markets.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.
As the Minister acknowledges, the future of our car industry in the west midlands is dependent on battery production and the Government giving the go-ahead for a gigafactory, but battery production requires ready access to materials such as cobalt, lithium and manganese. Will he tell us which countries he is talking to about trade deals that would secure these supplies?
We are talking to friends around the world to make sure that our supply chains are more resilient than ever before. That is a clear lesson from our coronavirus situation, where we have seen that we should not be too reliant on any one country. We have prioritised securing investment in battery cell gigafactories, to which the hon. Member refers. I am delighted that he is supporting our agenda, which we believe is key to anchoring the mass manufacture of electric vehicles in Britain, safeguarding jobs and driving emissions to net zero by 2050.
Australia Trade Agreement: Bishop Auckland
The Government are clear that any deal with Australia must work for UK farmers and producers. We will use a range of tools to defend British farming. As well as improving access to the Australian market, an FTA will act as a gateway to CPTPP, creating unheralded new export opportunities for British farmers and producers.
Last summer, the Secretary of State visited Grange Hill farm in Bishop Auckland, where leading farmers John and Jane are rightly proud of the fabulous beef that they produce. Will my right hon. Friend please tell the House how the gateway to the CPTPP—a deal with Australia—will open up new markets for British beef farmers?
I know that the Secretary of State greatly enjoyed her visit last year to the farms in my hon. Friend’s constituency. CPTPP is a great opportunity. I referenced in an earlier question growing Asian demand for products such as meat and other British agrifood products. We see there being tremendous opportunities in that fast-growing market—13% of global GDP across four continents. This is a real opportunity to be able to sell British farming produce to those fast-growing Asian and American markets.
UK-China Trading Relationship
China is an important trading partner for the UK, with bilateral trade worth £78.8 billion in 2020. In fact, China was our third largest overall trading partner and seventh largest export market last year, with UK exports to China amounting to £22.9 billion. The UK also remains a leading destination for Chinese outbound investment in Europe.
Coda Octopus, a company based in my constituency, has been encouraged by successive Tory Governments to expand its sales to China. Its world-leading Echoscope is used in underwater port construction and in renewable energy projects, and it does not have a military use. Yet despite a 23-year track record of exports, it is now losing millions of pounds in orders due to a change in attitude on export licences, and responses from the Minister’s Department are taking over 100 days. Will the Minister meet me so that I can sort this situation out for my constituents?
I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her reasonable question. It is a delight to have an SNP Member in the Chamber actually championing business and looking to open up markets. We have one of the most rigorous and thorough export licensing regimes in the world, and we are proud of it. Every application is looked at on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated criteria. However, I will ensure that a meeting is set up for her with the appropriate Minister to discuss this.
Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.
Two weeks ago, we heard that Jimmy Lai, the owner of the largest pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong, had not only been sentenced for a second time but has now had his assets frozen. This step makes it incredibly hard to continue to fund his journalistic enterprises, which in turn has a chilling implication for a free press in Hong Kong. Colleagues across this House have called on the Government to implement Magnitsky sanctions, but there is concern that the UK’s sluggishness to implement sanctions is because the Government seek a future trade deal with China. Can the Minister clarify: is the prospect of a future deal causing this Government to treat China with leniency it does not deserve?
It is one of the abiding characteristics of the left in general that if they cannot find a scare story they invent one. This Government are clear: we are not seeking a free trade agreement with China. We have led the world in challenging China where we have found it necessary to do so. Working with international partners, we seek to maximise impact on any actions China takes that run counter to its international treaty obligations, including detentions without trial, detention of human rights defenders, and persecution of some religious and ethnic minorities. We work with allies on the most effective means to challenge it. On 30 June, at the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the UK read out a formal statement on behalf of 28 countries highlighting concerns about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. I hope that the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members will never again suggest that we would do anything to put trade ahead of our responsibilities on human rights.
Last week the UK agreed in principle a new trade deal with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein worth £22 billion that brings opportunities for British exporters and services, from farmers to lawyers to musicians. It is the first trade deal ever to include provisions on mobile roaming, and it brings benefits to UK fish processing, supporting 18,000 jobs in Scotland, East Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire.
Last month, Members in all parts of the House were horrified by the appalling outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza. Can the Secretary of State set out whether British arms exports were used in any way against innocent civilians in that conflict? If she is unable to do so, does she not agree that the inability to know where our arms are being used, and what for, is hugely concerning given the potential breaches of international law?
We welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza last month. We are committed to a durable ceasefire. As the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart) mentioned, we have one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and we take these issues very seriously.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the importance of the Gulf given that the six countries in the Gulf Co-operation Council are our third-largest non-EU export market, at over £30 billion last year. I am very pleased that we have a strong visa offer for our partners there, including the electronic visa waiver programme, and that the introduction of Britain’s new points-based immigration system creates a level playing field for the first time in many years. I will continue to work closely with fellow Ministers at the Home Office to make sure that the visa system contributes to Britain rightly being recognised as a world leader with which to trade and invest.
I thank my hon. Friend for his continued support for businesses in his constituency, and I agree with him that B&B Attachments is an example of UK manufacturing at its best. My Department was delighted to help B&B grow its business overseas by providing specialised advice and dedicated funding. The Department is doing all it can to help other manufacturing suppliers from across the regions and nations of the UK to achieve success overseas, including with grants from our £38 million international-isation fund.
I thank the hon. Lady for her excellent question, because trade show support is really important for putting British business on the front foot. We have worked across multiple industries to improve our digital and virtual offer, and I am delighted to say that in some areas that has led to higher levels of activity than we had before. I will make sure that the House is informed as soon as we have further to say about the plan, possibly following 21 June.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for a deal with Australia. There is also the fact that it will lead to entry to the CPTPP—a vast Pacific market of huge benefit to the manufacturing industry in the north-east of England and beyond. I thank him very much for his support.
The Labour party is the party of red tape; we are the ones who are getting rid of it. We have called for pragmatism in this area. We are a sovereign nation—we are British, and we are proud of it—and we are going to stand by every corner of this country as we deliver trade benefits and create jobs. In respect of the issues around meat, it is wrong that anyone should be threatening the British sausage. We will stand up for the British sausage, and no one will ever be able to destroy it.
I am pleased to say that my Department has recently created the new Export Academy, designed precisely to equip businesses with the capabilities and confidence to export successfully. My hon. Friend is such a champion of his local exporters, and it is so refreshing to have Government Members like him championing local business. I believe that he is holding an exporters fair shortly, and I congratulate him on that. He will be pleased to hear that 259 businesses from the north-west have joined the SME pilot Export Academy since it began, including 15 from the Burnley area. We have international trade advisers for the northern powerhouse, so additional resource has gone in there, and with his help, we will continue to champion northern businesses, and businesses from Burnley in particular, over the coming months and years.
Once again, the Labour party is obsessed by membership of the European Union. It has not moved on from the referendum, when the British people provided a clear signal to us in this place that we should get on with delivering the benefits of Brexit. This deal is a world leader in digital trade, eliminating the need for paperwork, and many countries and trade blocs could learn from that.
I feel somewhat inadequate that I can only say this in English, but many happy returns, Mr Speaker.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, as and when a trade deal with the United States is agreed, the Government will not compromise on the principle that underpins the online safety Bill—that digital platforms, including American ones, must comply with the duty of care to keep their users as safe as they reasonably can—and that that will hold true whether or not the Bill has completed its legislative passage and is enforced by that point?
The UK is committed to making our regime the safest place in the world to be online. In trade negotiations, we will protect our online safety regime, while also promoting our thriving digital industry. I am pleased that in free trade agreements with Japan and the European economic area, we have agreed free flow of data alongside protecting Britain’s high standards, and that is exactly what we would do in an agreement with the United States.
Scotch whisky is vital in North East Fife, not just because we enjoy a wee dram, particularly on birthdays—many happy returns, Mr Speaker—but because it forms a key part of the local economy. With four independent distilleries in my constituency, the success of these businesses matters both for those in directly linked jobs and for those working in tourism and hospitality. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Prime Minister will use his bilateral meeting with President Biden this week to agree and publish a clear road map for the permanent settlement of the Boeing-Airbus dispute, which would remove the risk of tariffs being reimposed on Scotch whisky and other sectors?
It was very positive news when the tariffs were lifted earlier this year. We are now working very closely with Katherine Tai, the US TR, with whom I have regular conversations, on a permanent settlement to this arrangement, and we are making good progress.
The difference is that you and I don’t count the years, Mr Speaker. Instead, we make the years count, and that is important.
It is really important that we have these trade deals and I support them, but I wish to express concern about the Australian trade deal. I declare an interest as a member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. The Ulster Farmers’ Union and my neighbours, who are members of it, have expressed concern about the quality of Australian beef and the fact that it might impact adversely on the Northern Ireland beef sector and industry. We export most of our beef. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the deal will not impact on the Northern Ireland beef sector?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have met the Foyle Food Group, for example, who were the first beef exporters to export to the United States when we got the ban removed. I know that there are huge opportunities around the world for high-quality Northern Ireland beef. Part of what we are doing with the Australian trade deal is opening up wider access to the Asia-Pacific markets, which have higher prices than here in the UK and in Europe and will bring more opportunity. I am very happy to have further conversations with the hon. Gentleman.