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Topical Questions

Volume 699: debated on Thursday 15 July 2021

The United States is our largest single country trading partner and an important ally. We have already made progress in the Airbus-Boeing dispute, getting tariffs removed on great British products such as machinery and whisky. I am now working closely with my US counterparts to tackle global issues on steel, aerospace and technology to make sure that trade is fair as well as free.

We are six months into Brexit and the sea of opportunity that the seafood producers of my Argyll and Bute constituency were promised has turned out to be swamp of bureaucracy. Alongside a mountain of paperwork and red tape, they all report falling prices, loss of markets, labour shortages and major transport and logistical problems. Six months into Brexit, they are facing an existential crisis. How has the Secretary of State’s Department allowed that to happen?

We have seen trade with the EU bounce back after some initial issues. In particular, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has offered support to seafood producers to ensure that they have what they need to be able to deal with those issues.

I welcome the historic free trade agreement that my right hon. Friend has secured with Australia and congratulate her on it. As somebody who has done some exporting to Australia before coming here, I know that this presents significant opportunities for UK businesses and consumers. I was really pleased to see increased opportunities for younger people to travel and work there, which is a very valuable experience and an interesting element for a trade deal. (902761)

My hon. Friend is correct. The Australia deal is a fundamentally liberalising agreement that removes tariffs and supports millions of jobs. It will strengthen the bonds of friendship—I speak as the parliamentary president of the Conservative Friends of Australia—for example by championing youth mobility, which he referred to. The deal also paves the way for joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and the growing middle-class markets of the Pacific rim. We are realising the vision of a global Britain that looks to one of the most dynamic trading areas in the world.

Does the Minister think it is appropriate that HSBC continues to meet Trade Ministers privately and advise on UK trade policy with China while it supports the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and continues to freeze prominent activists’ bank accounts? (902762)

HSBC is an extremely important company and employer in this country. I do not have a problem with Ministers meeting HSBC, let us put that on the record. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the very strong action we have taken in relation to China and the measures announced by the Foreign Secretary in this House in January in relation to supply chains in Xinjiang and actions in Hong Kong, which had broad agreement across the House. We will continue to make vigorous representations in relation to China, and we are monitoring the situation very closely.

The UK is already one of the world’s biggest exporters of services, with remotely delivered service exports worth £207 billion in 2019 alone. I am delighted to see that negotiations have been launched for a new digital economy agreement with Singapore. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this new advanced high-tech digital trade agreement could remove barriers to digital trade and thereby allow UK exports to expand into high-tech markets? (902763)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Services are 80% of the UK economy. We are the world’s second largest exporter of services, and a huge number of those are digitally enabled. The digital economy agreement between the UK and Singapore will be a model for global digital trade rules, and I met Singapore Minister Alvin Tan just yesterday to discuss it. Singapore is a global leader in this area. We are looking forward to signing an excellent agreement with Singapore.

We cannot claim to have reached genuine net zero as a country or even have a plan to do so until we take into account the impact of our imports on global carbon emissions. The Secretary of State and the Minister for Trade Policy have acknowledged the importance of that, but neither has answered this very simple question: will the Government commit to ensuring that proposals for a carbon border tax are on the agenda for COP26 in November, so that meaningful progress can be made on accounting for and reducing carbon emissions from trade? Yes or no? (902764)

We are following developments on the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism closely. The UK has ambitious carbon pricing through our emissions trading scheme and carbon price support mechanism, and we expect the EU CBAM to take account of that in its implementation. The COP President-designate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), has said that he does not anticipate carbon border adjustment mechanisms becoming an issue within the COP26 negotiations.

Many of my farmers in South East Cornwall already find it difficult to deal with the amount of paperwork they have. Some will have seen the entertaining but very informative show by Jeremy Clarkson, as he worked his farm. How is the Department proactively going to help our farmers achieve global sales? (902766)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her championing of her constituency and Cornwall’s farmers. We are opening markets, as we have discussed. We are activating farmers with our “Open Doors” campaign, and we are grateful for the support of the National Farmers Union and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. We have a mentoring scheme, which I was delighted to launch in the south-west, and we are leading trade missions such as “Spring into Japan”, to make sure that on a greater scale than ever before we are engaging more farmers’ produce with global markets, leading to jobs and prosperity in her constituency and beyond.

In the national food strategy, which was published today, I note that despite the manifesto pledge in 2019, the Government have still not said what standards they propose to protect or what mechanism they will use to defend those standards in trade negotiations. Is the Minister prepared to do that now? (902769)

We have been absolutely categorical in our commitment on food standards and food safety standards. There will be no compromise on UK standards in relation to any trade agreement. That has been the case—[Interruption.] Our commitment is absolute. If the hon. Member were to take a look at all the trade agreements we have done with 67 countries—if she looked at the Australia trade deal agreement in principle and the Japan deal—she would see no diminution in our food safety and animal welfare standards so far.

Enshore Subsea, based at the port of Blyth, has a proud history of subsea trenching for the oil and gas industries, as well as the telecoms and offshore power industries, dating back over 25 years. It is a fine example of the incredible innovation offered by UK businesses excelling on the world stage. Will my hon. Friend come with me to the port of Blyth to visit this fantastic world-leading business, and discuss with it how we can best enable businesses like it to compete across the globe? (902768)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her team have completed 67 trade deals around the world, and she and I have spoken many times about the aspects and impacts of the deals that she has done on north Wales, particularly in relation to agriculture, which is such a significant part of my constituency. What assurances can the Minister give to the people of Delyn that maintaining the highest level of food and agriculture standards in our global trading is at the forefront of all our negotiations? (902771)

I can absolutely give that commitment to the people of Delyn. The Government have been very clear that any trade deals must work for UK consumers and businesses, upholding our high regulatory standards. The Government, as I mentioned earlier, have manifesto commitments to no compromise on standards in animal welfare, food safety and the environment.

Mr Speaker, I am delighted to be joining you from the 7th global forum for combating antisemitism here in Israel. With that in mind, as a newly independent sovereign trading nation, we have a number of trading opportunitieseb;normal;j ahead of us, including with countries such as Israel, with which we already have a £5 billion continuity trade relationship. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm what progress has been made on an advanced high-tech free trade agreement with Israel, and what help can she offer the likes of the Northern Health Science Alliance in conjunction with Israel? (902773)

The Secretary of State had a successful visit to Israel herself in the last week of June, and she had productive discussions with her Israeli counterpart, focused on ambitions for upgrading our current trade relationship. As my hon. Friend suggests, I am very keen personally to strengthen our £5 billion trade relationship even further, and I look forward to taking these discussions forward to create further opportunities for British businesses in tech and beyond.

Following the recent investor-state dispute settlement challenge from Canadian fossil fuel company TC Energy to President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone tar sands pipeline, seeking an unprecedented $15 billion, what responses has the Secretary of State received on the issue of ISDS in the recent consultation on UK-Canada trading arrangements, and will she commit to dropping ISDS in the UK-Canada trade deal? (902772)

We will be responding in due course to the call for input on going further on a trade deal with Canada, and we are looking forward to that negotiation starting in the autumn. I would remind the hon. Member that there are no ISDS provisions in the UK-Australia deal, but I would also remind her that the UK has never lost an ISDS case. We do have ISDS provisions in quite a number of our existing agreements, and the UK has never lost any such case.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is thanks to UK Export Finance reacting so quickly to the economic challenges of the covid-19 pandemic with the full backing of the Treasury that it was able to help some 549 companies and all their suppliers sell to 77 countries around the world last year? (902776)

I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I am tremendously proud of UK Export Finance and its staff for the innovative way in which they have responded to the pandemic, with the record level—more than £12 billion—given to UK businesses supporting more than 100,000 jobs up and down the country. Behind those 549 companies, of course, stand 10,000 or more supply chain companies. UKEF, at no cost to the taxpayer, makes an enormous difference to the prosperity and success of this country.

Now that we have left the EU, we have fantastic opportunities ahead of us as an independent sovereign trading nation. Does my hon. Friend agree that the deals that have already been secured herald a new era for British businesses exporting around the globe and can assist Airbus, near my constituency, in ensuring that more airlines are flying on Welsh wings? (902777)

My Department continues to defend the interests of British industries in all parts of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State is currently in the United States building on the historic arrangement that we secured in the Airbus-Boeing dispute, ensuring that the British aerospace sector can take off again after covid-19. Confidence in our fantastic aerospace manufacturing capability has never been at such heights. The United Airlines order of 70 A321neo aircraft last month will feature wonderful Welsh-made wings, and I look forward to further success in the future.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s ambitious strategy for growing exports needs to include more agricultural councils in our embassies, a UK export council to help co-ordinate that strategy, and better promotion and marketing of brand Britain abroad so that we can ensure that farming and food companies in Eddisbury and right across the country can embrace the undoubted benefits and opportunities that UK free trade deals can deliver?

My hon. Friend cleverly tempts me to list the recommendations of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which constructively seeks to improve our support for UK farmers. We look forward to responding to that as soon as possible.

I am glad you were not tempted. I am now suspending the House for three minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.