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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

International Trade

The Secretary of State was asked—

Israel: Trade Co-operation

1. What progress she has made in discussions with her Israeli counterpart on an agreement for further trade co-operation beyond the trade continuity deal. (904513)

I welcome the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) to his place. It is a pleasure to be working with him, and I look forward to discussing some of the many exciting things that will be going on in the Department for International Trade in the months ahead.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Scott Benton) is aware, on Monday the Prime Minister announced plans to enhance our trade and investment relationship with Israel. Last week, I held productive talks with the Israeli ambassador on the matter, and I look forward to strengthening that important trading relationship.

As the Prime Minister rightly said on Monday, our close co-operation with Israel on security, science and technology benefits not only our two respective nations, but the entire world. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new strategic agreement signed between the UK and Israel will further enhance those ties over the next decade, and will she update the House on when we can expect the consultation period for the new bilateral free trade deal to begin?

The strategic agreement signed with Israel is the starting post for a series of activities that will deepen our trading relationship. We will be opening a public consultation on our enhanced bilateral free trade agreement in January, and we look forward to hearing the views of businesses and stakeholders across the UK on their priorities for that deal. We will also be hosting a joint innovation summit with our Israeli friends in March next year, in order to support new technology ideas.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the huge dynamic in Israeli universities? Will she make every effort, including with resources, to encourage partnerships between UK and Israeli universities, in terms of research, development and innovation?

As I said, we will be hosting a joint innovation summit in March with our Israeli friends in those areas of research and development, as mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. How we can work together between our universities is very much on our list of priorities, and I am also working closely with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure that we link in the international relationships that we want to grow with Israel.

Free Trade Agreements

For the first time in 50 years, we are an independent trading nation, able to strike deals around the world. We have already secured trade deals with 70 countries, plus the EU, covering trade worth £766 billion last year, and we are just getting started. We have secured an agreement-in-principle with Australia and New Zealand, and we continue to work on a deal with the US. We are preparing for negotiations with India, Canada, and Mexico, and we have also launched a public consultation on a deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, we are due to begin work early next year on an enhanced and improved free trade agreement with Israel.

Warner’s Distillery, based in the village of Harrington in the Kettering constituency is the largest independent craft-based gin distillery in the country, and it is seeking to export even more of its wonderful product. Is it not the case that businesses that export are more profitable, productive and resilient, and is it not exciting for businesses such as Warner’s Distillery, and other businesses in Kettering, that more free trade agreements are coming down the track?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Across north Northamptonshire, businesses such as Warner’s Distillery are exporting some £1.5 billion of goods around the world, as measured in 2019. I am confident that the trade deals we are signing globally will benefit more businesses just like Warner’s, to create opportunities and support jobs in my hon. Friend’s corner of the country, and beyond.

The Minister will know that the ratio between damage from Brexit and the trade deals is substantial. Indeed, in terms of pounds, there is £490 of Brexit damage for a £1 gain from the New Zealand deal, £2 gain from Australia, £8 gain from the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and £20 gain from America, if that comes together. If all that happens, it comes to about £31. Where will the Minister find the £459 of Brexit damage that the trade deals cannot make up?

We are working for every corner of our United Kingdom, backing British businesses. We are supporting Scottish jobs as much as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, at a time when the SNP wants to cut itself off from its largest market, the British internal market. The truth is that the SNP is anti-trade. Not only does it want to cut itself off from the United Kingdom, but it does not back any trade deal with anyone.

The point and purpose of trade deals—I hope the Minister will agree—is that they are not static, and the forecasts are just an indication of what will come; they will be able to grow and develop. Can the Minister reassure the House that the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership offers an opportunity for the UK to expand its businesses and its exports across the country?

My hon. Friend is of course right; the TPP offers a great opportunity to access a fast-growing part of the world as part of our Indo-Pacific tilt, as detailed in our integrated review. The opportunity to engage with this part of the world, where there is a growing middle class and increased demand for our products, goods and services, is one that we should seize.

Free trade negotiations with the US are vital to lifting Donald Trump’s tariffs on British steel and aluminium exports, which in turn are crucial to protecting jobs and businesses in communities across our country. Given that the US has already agreed to lift tariffs on many EU steel products, if we are to get a level playing field for our firms and our workers, might it not be time for Lord Frost to be given a little help to stop bungling discussions with the EU so that this vital US-UK trade deal can be sorted?

We will always stand up for the British national interest, and that includes with the European Union. We will make sure that our United Kingdom remains strong and can trade with the world. The truth is that America’s unjustified tariffs on UK steel, aluminium and derivatives are unfair and unnecessary as those imports do not harm US national security, so we will continue to make representations to back British businesses.

British Exports

The Secretary of State announced a refreshed export strategy—Made in Britain, Sold to the World—on 17 November during International Trade Week. This business-centred 12-point plan is designed to transform our support for exporters, encourage them to sell to the world and accelerate our race to £1 trillion-worth of exports per year.

I welcome that new strategy. The port of King’s Lynn handles half a million tonnes of exports of barley and other high-quality agricultural products as well as imports, and it has just had one of its busiest years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the investment that Associated British Ports is making in new facilities to support the growing demand for timber from the construction sector and other supply chains is a vote of confidence in Norfolk and will help our economy to bounce back?

I welcome ABP’s investment in King’s Lynn and was glad to hear of the new Vancouver timber terminal, which I understand will open on Monday, representing £1.4 million of investment. With 95% of the UK’s trade facilitated by the maritime sector, our ports are integral to UK trade and to the success of our Made in Britain, Sold to the World strategy.

I am sure that the Minister, like me, has been incredibly impressed by the small and medium-sized businesses that are looking to export to new markets. What support is available for a business such as N’Genius, which is based in my Warrington South constituency and has patented a new high-strength stainless steel that can revolutionise engineering and construction? How can this Government help it export that UK innovation to the rest of the world?

Our new export strategy is a 12-point plan focused on tackling the barriers to trade faced by SMEs. We are opening markets and supporting companies through the export support service, which provides a single point of entry to DIT support for SMEs. This new service will direct businesses to services such as those provided by UK Export Finance, the UK Export Academy and our pilot UK trade show programme. I am happy to connect N’Genius to one of our international trade advisers for further assistance.

Growing British exports has a key role in our levelling-up agenda. I am particularly proud of some world-class textile, engineering, sheet metal fabricators and food and drink businesses in my Yorkshire constituency. What more can the Minister and his Department do to support my world-class Yorkshire businesses to export to the world?

Our export strategy will ensure that those companies in Yorkshire will be supported through all stages of their exporting journey, whether through the UK Export Academy, the advice of our global network of international trade experts, or the financial support or export credit provided by UK Export Finance. In my recent visit to Leeds, I met our excellent team of international trade advisers there. Again, I am more than happy to put them in contact with my hon. Friend to provide additional support.

Exports from Northern Ireland to Ireland were €2.8 billion in the first nine months of this year, up 60% on the same period in 2020. Does the Minister agree that while Brexit has been an export disaster for GB, it has certainly been a boon for exports from Northern Ireland?

The President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary of State for International Trade, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) took the Board of Trade to a meeting in Ireland. I am sure that that issue was discussed. If the hon. Gentleman would like to know more details of what we are doing to support mutual trade, I am more than happy to have a discussion with him.

When negotiating free trade agreements, the Government must promote and protect the interests of industries across the UK. What steps are the Government taking to protect the interests of Scottish agriculture in future negotiations?

The Department for International Trade is always looking to protect our own industries and sectors, including the agricultural sector, while ensuring that they are able to exploit new markets. In terms of beef and lamb, our teams are working hard to ensure that the new markets we are opening up will be available to Scottish farmers. Again, if the hon. Lady would like to know more about the support we are able to offer, I am very happy to facilitate that discussion.

I thank the Minister for his responses, but bearing in mind the fears of our farmers and farmers’ unions following the New Zealand deal, will he outline what steps have been taken with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs at the Northern Ireland Assembly to promote our British produce exports to global markets affected by the New Zealand deal?

My understanding is that there are regular and frequent conversations between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and DAERA. I am more than happy to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets details of those discussions if he has any specific concerns he wishes to have addressed.

Labour Shortages: Exports and Imports

4. What recent assessment her Department has made of the impact of labour shortages on UK (a) export and (b) import levels. (904518)

As the global economy has rebounded from the pandemic, we have seen pressures placed on supply chains across sectors and across the world. It is this Government who have taken quick and decisive action across the United Kingdom to ease those pressures where immediate interventions have been required. The Minister is redefining “quick and decisive”. An Aviva study indicates that more than seven out of 10 businesses are worried about skills shortages and 25% of businesses said their biggest risk is the uncertainty caused by Brexit. The temporary visa scheme for poultry workers has now closed and only nine people applied to join the Government scheme designed to boost the number of fuel tanker drivers, out of an intended 300. Given the failure of those schemes, why will the Government not consider devolving immigration powers, which could deliver the stronger labour market they profess to want but in reality are actively frustrating?

I am afraid that SNP Members have not woken up to the reality of the opportunities that we now have to trade around the world as part of being an independent trading nation. The hon. Gentleman refers to tanker drivers. Some 5,000 visas have been made available for HGV drivers for a three-month period to provide short-term relief. We have gone further. The long-term sustainable solution is to support and develop our domestic workforce, and to improve the pay and conditions in the sector. That is why the Government are working to correct the structural problems in the haulage industry. We are increasing testing availability by 50,000 a year. We are streamlining the process for efficiency and we are committing £17 million in free skills boot camps for HGV drivers.

The problem that the Minister has is that the shortage of HGV drivers in the UK is happening now. It is already causing huge disruption and we are all anxious to ensure that the situation does not get worse in the run-up to Christmas. Will the Minister tell us how many of the 5,000 temporary worker visas that the Government made available to overseas lorry drivers in September have been allocated?

We are not going to provide a running commentary on numbers, but what I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that this is not a problem faced only by the United Kingdom. He is so keen always to talk about our friends across the channel, so he will know that France has a shortage of 40,000 drivers, Germany has a shortage of 60,000 drivers, and Poland has a shortage of 120,000 drivers.

I find it extraordinary that the Minister was unable to tell us how many visas have been allocated to overseas HGV drivers. We were told in October that it was just 20; I wonder what the figure is now. The reality is that the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warns of “delivery chaos”, of

“major delays on wine and spirit delivery times”

up to five times longer than last year and increases in freight costs—no doubt that will not affect parties in Downing Street. Does he want to be responsible for cancelling Christmas celebrations elsewhere, because if not, he needs to give a much better answer than the one he just gave?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not realised that this is not Transport questions, but International Trade questions—I am sure that his new shadow ministerial colleagues will raise questions with Transport Ministers in due course. We continue to see businesses thriving, including in the wine and spirit industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) pointed out.

Eight out of 10 businesses in Scotland say that they need to recruit staff, yet three quarters are reporting skills shortages. Businesses cannot export what they can neither make nor supply, yet the Government’s already tired 12-point plan, which has been mentioned this morning, has nothing to cover workforce shortages or dealing with them. Will the Minister explain why?

Again, this is International Trade questions, but I am happy to provide an answer on behalf of the Government. We are putting significant resources into training people up to develop our domestic workforce. My understanding is that many people are very keen to find a new job potentially in a new industry. This Government will help them to do that.

Clearly, the Government are keen to duck all these issues relating to trade. The Federation of Small Businesses reported to a Committee in this Parliament that a fifth of its members have ceased trading with the UK’s biggest export market—the EU—either temporarily or permanently due to bureaucracy or costs, yet the 12-point plan contains nothing to deal with that issue. The Government’s priorities are clearly elsewhere. Tory cronies are queuing up for a Christmas come early to get contracts and big donors are fairly leaping into the Lords. Why are backbone businesses being short-changed and served only a thin gruel?

I know that the hon. Gentleman’s Twitter followers will be happy with that statement. The truth is that we have secured trade deals with 70 countries around the world, and the EU. The EU deal is the best deal that it has ever secured with anyone. A zero-tariff, zero-quota deal has been done with no one bar the United Kingdom, and we look forward to trading with not only them, but new markets, as I have outlined.

Trade Deals: Animal Welfare and Environmental Standards

6. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on (a) animal welfare and (b) environmental standards into future trade deals. (904523)

Oh, that question is for me as well—thank you, Mr Speaker. I am delighted with the interest from Opposition Members in trade matters.

Her Majesty’s Government share the British public’s high regard for animal welfare and environmental standards. We have agreed ground-breaking animal welfare provisions with Australia and New Zealand, including stand-alone chapters reflecting the importance of animal welfare in those agreements. We have secured ambitious environmental chapters that preserve our right to regulate to meet net zero, affirm our shared commitment to the Paris agreement and will help us to co-operate on a range of environmental issues.

My residents in Twickenham are deeply concerned about both the ethics and the quality of the food that they eat, and they have written to me in their hundreds about protecting standards in future trade deals. They also want to protect British farmers, yet farmers across the country, from Cumbria to Shropshire to Cornwall, are being let down by trade deals that threaten to undercut them. If the Minister truly backs British farming and high food standards, why will he not give a cast-iron guarantee to protect them in future trade deals?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has clearly not been at previous Trade questions. Britain has secured agreement in principle on free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, following deals with the European economic area and Japan that will maintain Britain’s high levels of environmental protection and facilitate trade in goods and services for those farmers.

Foreign Investment: South Yorkshire

We are dedicated to facilitating international investment into all regions of the UK, including South Yorkshire, where we work with stakeholders across the region to identify and promote opportunities with high potential, including—my hon. Friend will be pleased to hear—one in Doncaster, focused on the rail sector.

I have spoken to national and international companies about investment in Doncaster, mainly at two sites: DN7 at Thorne and GatewayEast around Doncaster Sheffield airport. I even personally managed to secure a visit to Doncaster from Apple’s UK representative; it was fantastic for him to come up. What steps has the Department taken to encourage international companies to invest in Doncaster?

We have invested heavily and are building close relationships with the Mayor and the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority to support investment into the region. Details of capital investment projects such as GatewayEast will soon be added to the investment atlas that was published as part of the global investment summit.

Investment in South Yorkshire is important, but even more important is investment in northern Lincolnshire. Could the Minister give an assurance that he will work closely with me and with businesses in northern Lincolnshire, particularly to develop the renewable energy sector, in which we have great expertise?

I think my hon. Friend was campaigning for a rail line last time we spoke about the area.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we will continue to give his area access to the export support scheme, the export champions, the Export Academy and our vast network of international trade advisers.

Trade Deals: Environmental Standards

8. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on environmental standards into future trade deals. (904525)

12. What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on environmental standards into future trade deals. (904531)

The Minister claims that environmental protection is a priority in trade negotiations, but that simply does not resonate with the Department’s actions. In the Government’s desperation for a trade deal with Australia, they agreed to water down limited reference to climate change. Australia’s current commitments are consistent with 4° of global warming, far off the international 1.5° target. How is that at all consistent with the Government’s moral commitment to fight the climate emergency?

I am pleased to reassure the hon. Lady that the environment chapter will break new ground for the United Kingdom. Our agreement in principle includes real commitments to work together more closely on a whole host of areas. The truth is that we are leading the world in the area; we were the first country in the world to legislate for net zero, and we will continue in our endeavours to protect our environment for our children and grandchildren.

We cannot claim to have reached genuine net zero as a country, or even to have a plan to do so, until we take into account the impact of our imports on global carbon emissions. Will the Department for International Trade therefore agree to consider the evidence gathered by the Environmental Audit Committee in its inquiry into carbon border taxes? Better still, will the Department initiate an inquiry of its own?

Her Majesty’s Government welcome input from all parliamentary Committees of this House and will always look closely at all recommendations made, but I would highlight examples of how we are actually delivering on the agenda. We are working with countries such as Brazil and others to support how we reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment, through building new dialogues with agricultural producers and consumers through COP26 and beyond. We aim to support those collaborative actions and ultimately to reduce the impact of agriculture on carbon-rich ecosystems such as rainforests. This is an important area and we will continue to work very hard on it.

The UK-Australia agreement in principle marked the first time that Australia had ever agreed to a specific reference to the Paris agreement in a free trade agreement. Does my hon. Friend agree that trade is an effective way of encouraging other countries to bring their environmental protection standards up to the high levels of our own?

I commend my hon. Friend for his research. He is absolutely right: this is an important part of our wider diplomacy. Economic diplomacy is crucial to making sure that we spread British values around the world, including protections for the environment. As economies develop, they will of course want to seek the technologies that we have in this country to decarbonise and improve the quality of life for their people, too.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am also grateful to the Secretary of State for her welcome. I look forward to our debates on the crucial importance of trade to our national economy and, indeed, to promoting our values around the world.

The objective of the New Zealand-led international agreement on climate change, trade and sustainability is to break down global barriers to trade in green goods and services and eliminate the subsidies that are propping up fossil fuel producers. The Secretary of State announced last week that the UK would not be taking part in this crucial initiative. Can the Minister explain why?

I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his place. He is right—the United Kingdom is not currently considering joining the negotiations on that agreement—but we will continue to work with partners to establish how such plurilateral initiatives can help to support discussions at the World Trade Organisation. We will also continue to work closely with our partners on wider trade and environment matters, both through bilateral dialogue and through multilateral forums. That is how we believe we can secure the best results for not only the British people but the world.

The Government have not made an inch of progress on green trade in any of the bilateral trade agreements signed since 2019, so why should we put faith in that now? The Board of Trade itself has said:

“There are two main ways that trade can accelerate the green transition: liberalising green trade; and reducing market distortions”.

Does the Minister accept that that is exactly what the New Zealand agreement does, and if so, does he not think that now is the time to show global leadership and not to stay on the sidelines?

We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the environment receives the full attention of Her Majesty’s Government, but we will also seek to end other environmentally wasteful practices that arise from other state actors, such as the subsidising of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing sectors that exist in some countries, and we will press for the successful conclusion of the fisheries subsidies negotiation. That demonstrates that we are working across a number of areas, not just the one to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

Trade with the EU

UK trade in goods with the EU has been increasing this year. According to the latest data available, goods exports in September were up by 5.7% on those in the previous month.

Between 2019 and 2021, the value of exports from Scotland decreased by 24%. In England the figure was 12%, in Wales it was 24%, and in the north of Ireland it was 15%. This follows a period of steady decline since 2018. It is economic vandalism. There is hardly a sector in the country that does not attribute at least some of the blame for its difficulties to Brexit. What agreement that removes all tariff and non-tariff barriers do the Government plan to make with another country that can account for 48% of all UK trade?

Goods exports between Scotland and the European Union were up 4% in quarter 2 compared with the same period last year. We are getting growth back after a period of dealing with the pandemic and other shocks to the global economy, and I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to start focusing on those opportunities. I have had discussions this week with representatives of pretty much every other political party—I have talked to parliamentarians, metro Mayors, local enterprise partnerships and all sorts of bodies around the country in preparing for the further negotiations that we will have in the forthcoming weeks—but I have not heard a peep from his party.

If the members of the Minister’s party had not cold-shouldered the positive and constructive suggestions made by the Scottish Government immediately after the referendum—if they had even bothered to open and read the document—we might not be in the mess that we are in now.

This month, our figure has improved slightly from an all-time low, which is nothing to celebrate. Exports of food and drink from the United Kingdom to Europe have halved. The Food and Drink Federation has described that as a “disaster” and said that there have been only tiny gains in other markets. There was never going to be a Brexit that would be good for British businesses, but why do the Government not finally come clean and admit that their botched handling of Brexit has made the position even worse?

I ask the hon. Gentleman: what possible good could come from plugging every part of the UK economy back into the global economy, including the trading powerhouses of the future in emerging parts of the world? What possible good could come from championing a free trade policy globally that would end trade distortions and lift millions of people out of poverty? What good could come of that? I urge his party to get focused on those opportunities and to work with us and enable us to work with the businesses in his constituency to seize those opportunities. The country has decided that that is the future for the United Kingdom. I do wish that he would get on board.

Is it not interesting that my right hon. Friend highlights the recent increase in exports to the European Union, in stark contrast to the doom and gloom that we heard from our opponents, who are saying that there will be a catastrophe and collapse in trade? Will she focus on the countries in central and eastern Europe and the Three Seas initiative—some of the fastest-growing countries on our continent—and build strong bilateral trade agreements with countries such as Poland and others?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the opportunities that exist there. Clearly, we had good news recently on exports, but we also had fantastic news about inward investment and he is right to be optimistic. I think that our businesses are going to thrive in this new environment. There are some challenges that we have to address, but they are being addressed and we can see from the numbers that this is paying off.

New Zealand Trade Agreement

11. What assessment her Department has made of the potential impact on UK farmers and crofters of the planned UK trade agreement with New Zealand. (904529)

This deal brings new opportunities to agricultural producers, making it easier to trade with New Zealand. It is a gateway to joining the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP—a high-standard free trade agreement involving 11 Pacific nations. This will create new export opportunities for British farmers to those markets.

I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have to say to the Minister that her confidence is not shared by hill farmers and crofters, or by the National Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union of Scotland. If the Government are confident in their assessment of the opportunities and threats from this agreement, will they commission an economic and environmental impact assessment, independent of Government, to show that they are correct?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this will be independently scrutinised, and there is obviously the Trade and Agriculture Commission as well. We have ensured that any reports are produced in good time for all the relevant Select Committees of this House to scrutinise them. There are tremendous opportunities. I also work closely with my counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we are dealing with the genuine concerns of that sector, and we will continue to do so as the negotiations and deals progress.

Obviously the concerns of farmers and crofters will have to be addressed as the final agreement comes into place, but does my right hon. Friend agree that counter-seasonality offers a huge opportunity for British farmers to enter into agreements with farmers in New Zealand, so that markets across the world can be supplied all year round?

There are certainly opportunities through that to grow the market further still. I also think that we have to dispel some myths. It is not the case that the market is going to be flooded with New Zealand lamb. New Zealand already has tariff-free access through its WTO quota, of which it uses only half, so it is not the case that those things are going to come to pass. There are some massive opportunities and it is those opportunities that we need to focus on.

Exports: Financial Services

14. What recent steps her Department has taken to increase the export of British financial services. (904533)

15. What recent steps her Department has taken to increase the export of British financial services. (904534)

With colleagues in the Treasury, we are committed to championing export opportunities for our world-class financial services sector. We have done this through targeted export campaigns supporting specific UK financial services, as well as through signing ambitious free trade agreements that are reducing market access barriers and opening new doors for great British businesses to sell their services worldwide.

Financial services are so important to our economy, providing high-paid jobs and earning a substantial amount of revenue. We have done really well on our trade deals and it is vital that financial services are an important factor when we secure them. Will the Minister assure me that that is first and foremost in the Government’s mind?

We share my hon. Friend’s ambition to ensure that the UK remains a global hub for services and digital trade, which is why we are striking a series of advanced, high-standard FTAs with leading nations around the world. We have already made progress: our FTA with Japan provides greater benefits for financial services than the EU-Japan FTA, and includes provisions to ban unjustified data localisation and to support regulatory co-operation. Our recently signed FTA with Australia also includes an ambitious financial services chapter that will enable businesses to build on the £800 million-worth of financial services exported to Australia in 2020. So, Mr Speaker, the answer is yes.

Financial services account for more than 10% of our total tax take and are responsible for more than 1 million jobs throughout the country. Financial services are important not only to my constituents in Kensington but to Scotland, including Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, and to Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol and Chelmsford. Does my hon. Friend agree that financial services need to be priorities in all future trade agreements to secure best market access?

We are absolutely committed to prioritising British financial services in FTAs. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as the Government’s trade envoy to Iceland and Norway—a role that she fulfils with her usual vigour—will be pleased to see our commitment in practice in the UK’s recently signed FTA with Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, which benefits financial services.

Office for National Statistics data shows that services trade with the European Union is down 28%—the Minister neglected to mention that in his long response. So could he say where we are in terms of negotiations with the EU on equivalence for our financial sector?

I will have to refer the hon. Gentleman to discussions with colleagues. I will write back to him.

Aluminium Extrusions

16. What assessment she has made of the potential effect on UK industry of the Trade Remedies Authority’s investigation into aluminium extrusions. (904535)

It is an ongoing independent investigation by the Trade Remedies Authority. Although the authority indicated last month what it is minded to do, it would not be appropriate for me to try to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation.

It has now been more than eight months since the European Commission imposed anti-dumping duties on aluminium extrusions from China. Will the Minister tell us why, by comparison, our Trade Remedies Authority has been so slow to act on this issue? Will she assure us that the authority will take into account the risk of Chinese imports being diverted into the UK after the EU decision?

I am afraid that, as I alluded to, I cannot comment on the investigation or its potential outcome. The TRA is carrying out its work methodically and thoroughly. I encourage the hon. Lady to ensure that the businesses in her constituency that have an interest in the issue make representations to the TRA. I am sure she is encouraging them to do so, and that evidence is critical in ensuring that we get the right outcome. I will undertake to keep her up to date as things progress.

Topical Questions

Last week my Board of Trade published our “Digital Trade” report, which demonstrates how we can boost exports, turbocharge economic growth for the whole UK and create high-paying jobs across all four of our family of nations using digital tools. Because geography is now history, digital tools ensure that services can be delivered from anywhere.

We export more than £200 billion of digitally delivered services. With investment and the right planning, I want to make sure the UK improves on its already pretty impressive second place in global digital trade to get to the top of that chart. I have negotiated a world-first set of digital trade principles with our G7 partners and will be continuing to deliver these through our trade deals in the months ahead.

Boneham & Turner in Ashfield has been around for more than 100 years and, post Brexit, it is thriving, like many other businesses in Ashfield. Its boss, Charlie Boneham, tells me that the US is a big part of its business. Will my right hon. Friend please advise me on where we are with a possible trade deal with the US?

The US is currently reviewing progress on all the free trade agreement negotiations under the previous Administration. We welcome the opportunity to feed into that review. We have always been clear that a good deal is better than a quick deal, and we are here when the US is ready to continue those discussions.

A deal with the US will benefit not just manufacturers like Boneham & Turner in my hon. Friend’s constituency but the other 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises that also export goods to the US by removing tariffs, simplifying customs procedures and therefore making it easier to export. We already have £200 billion of bilateral trade with the US, and we continue to encourage those businesses that want to do more to come to the export support service, which the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), discussed earlier, to ensure they have all the tools they need to maximise their trade with the USA.

The emergence of the omicron variant surely underlines that, if we are to protect our citizens from covid, we need to help to accelerate vaccination programmes in developing countries. With Norway the latest country to agree that, in these exceptional circumstances, a temporary waiver on patent rules to help boost vaccine production is needed, why is the Secretary of State so intent on blocking any progress on such a deal?

We have been world leading throughout the pandemic in our negotiations with AstraZeneca on ensuring that vaccines are produced at cost. When I was Secretary of State for International Development, I made sure we invested in COVAX so that we led the way and brought other countries forward to ensure that as much vaccine as can be made gets to those who need it the most. Countries are continuing to work with the smallest and most vulnerable developing countries so they get the vaccines they need. We continue to have discussions on a waiver to the World Trade Organisation agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, although those discussions were postponed this week due to the complexity of omicron and movement. We will pick up those discussions in the new year.

T2. Earlier this year, in partnership with Google, I arranged a digital course to train and upskill service sector businesses across Rother Valley. Will my right hon. Friend set out how our trade deals, including the recently announced New Zealand trade deal, support the service sector, 70% of which is based outside London and some of which is based in Rother Valley? (904506)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he is doing to improve digital skills in his constituency. In 2019, 40% of service exports to New Zealand were delivered digitally. Under the New Zealand deal, service exporters, particularly those in his constituency and region, will benefit from more opportunities to deliver services through digital trade. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in her topical statement, referred to the Department’s focus on digital trade, which is vital for the future.

T3. National Farmers Union Scotland says the Australian trade deal is“a slow journey to the Australians getting unfettered access to UK markets and with no guarantees that the promises of other safeguards will address the fact that very different production systems are permitted in Australia”.When was the last time the Department involved officials from the Scottish Government and Scottish farming representatives in the negotiation of future free trade deals? (904507)

We engage with officials from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Government all the time, and we look forward to continuing that.

T4. I was recently fortunate enough to visit the DP World London Gateway container port in my constituency to hear about its exciting plans—its commitment to the construction of a fourth berth, and its ambition to become the largest container port in the UK and to use the opportunities that freeport status brings. Will the Minister update the House on what the Department is doing to support freeports and promote UK exporters? (904510)

Freeports will be national hubs for trade and investment. They will regenerate communities, attract new businesses, and create jobs and opportunities across our country. As they move towards implementation, my Department is working closely with each freeport, including London Gateway, to help pull new investment in and to support exporters to seize the advantages that freeports will bring them.

T5. Last weekend, we saw the release of the Xinjiang papers, highlighting how human rights atrocities go right to the heart of the Chinese Government. As a result, I want to ask what steps is the Minister taking to review our trading relationship with China, because it cannot be business as usual? (904511)

China remains, of course, an important trading partner for Britain, but we have no plans to negotiate a trade deal with China. We will build trade only where it supports British businesses and jobs. We will seek to reduce barriers to accessing the Chinese market, but I can assure the hon. Lady that our approach to China will always be rooted in British values and British interests. We want a positive and constructive relationship with China, but I can assure her that we will not sacrifice our values in doing this.

T6. With the exponential growth in offshore wind, including off the East Anglian coast, where 50% of the UK’s wind farms are located, world-class knowledge and skills have developed and the UK is now a global leader. Will my right hon. Friend outline the steps that are taken in negotiating trade deals to both promote this expertise abroad and attract inward investment into the UK offshore wind sector? (904512)

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting that trade in itself is a force for good in the world, as well as having environmental chapters in trade deals. One example of that is our free trade agreement with New Zealand, which will include the most comprehensive environmental list of goods with liberalised tariffs in a free trade agreement to date. He is right to point to the technology being developed in the UK, which can provide solutions for nations around the world, whether they are developed or developing nations, to meet net zero.

The Secretary of State has a long history of being a supporter of the creative industries and I know that, like me, she will be concerned about the possibility of Channel 4 being lost to Leeds if it is taken over by a global player and taken away—I hope she is concerned about that. We have the BBC in Salford and Channel 4 in Leeds, so does she agree that levelling up would be deeply damaged if we were to lose Channel 4 from Leeds?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. The points he makes are well understood. We often talk about the BBC and soft power, influence and all it brings, but Channel 4 has also done some incredible things, particularly in the disability space, during the Paralympic games in 2012 and since. His points have been well made. This is a matter for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but I am sure those in that Department will have heard him.

Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what steps are being taken to establish a free trade agreement with our historical ally Pakistan, and specifically to encourage trade between our country and the Kashmir region?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his consistent interest in this area, and I value the conversations we have had on this matter. In the four quarters to Q2 this year, we have had £2.6 billion-worth of trade with Pakistan, and I am pleased to confirm to him that we already offer Pakistan the enhanced framework in the generalised scheme of preferences, which ensures that it has more generous access to the British market than others do today. He will also know, and the House will want to be aware, that between July and September this year we ran a consultation on our proposed new developing countries trading scheme. This is a statement of our intent: the British Government want to take a more ambitious, more generous, more pro-growth approach to trading with developing nations. Our new scheme will mean more opportunities and less bureaucracy—

I thank the Secretary of State for the support that she has given in the past to the development of tidal stream renewable energy generation. Now that we have the very welcome ring-fenced pot for tidal stream energy, will she charge her Department with the development of a strategy to ensure that we can export that expertise as we move towards commercialisation?

The right hon. Gentleman will be as pleased as I am to see that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury were able to find a way to make sure that the contract for difference, now published, will be able to provide that ring-fenced support for tidal stream. As he knows, I visited earlier in the year to see the work for myself and to talk to those who have been developing this technology. As part of the work that the Department for International Trade will be doing on green trade across the world, we want to ensure that, as that potentially becomes commercially viable, such firms are absolutely at the forefront of the package of tools that other countries will also be able to use to help them to decarbonise their energy sectors. We will work very closely with those firms. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green, who is overseeing the export service, will make sure that they are included and supported as they think about where those markets might be.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on trade discussions with India? She will know that any reduction in the punitive tariffs that apply to Scotch whisky would be an enormous boost for the industry.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his endeavours in making sure that Scotch whisky can be enjoyed by more people more reasonably all around the world. Britain wants a deal that slashes barriers to doing business and trading with India’s £2 trillion economy and its 1.4 billion-strong population, and Scotch whisky is at the top of our agenda.

I could never have thought that I was about to be called, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In a few weeks’ time, the United Kingdom will start to apply import controls to goods coming from the European Union. Last year, when the European Union started to apply its controls, a large number of small and medium-sized exporters, particularly in the Scottish food and drink industry, felt that they were simply left to sink or swim. What assurances can the Government give that small import businesses in Scotland will not be hung out to dry next year in the way that small exporters in Scotland were left hung out to dry last year?

I encourage the hon. Gentleman, if he has not already done so, to put businesses in his constituency in touch with our Department. The export support service runs alongside the trader support service—indeed they are joined up organisations—and we are there to provide bespoke support to businesses, to help them work through some of the challenges with new paperwork and so forth, and to give them the information they need to make business planning decisions. I encourage him to put those businesses in touch with us directly, and we will support them.

Alongside Blackpool tower and the pleasure beach, Blackpool rock is just one of the things that makes my constituency world famous. Exports of our most famous edible product, produced locally, are growing year on year. Will the Minister meet me to discuss how we can boost these exports around the world?

I am more than happy to ensure that my hon. Friend is put in contact with our export support scheme, our international trade advisers, our export champions, and our Export Academy to ensure that the world-famous rock continues to be sold across the world.

Let us try again, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Exports from Ireland to GB soared in the first six months of 2021 after Brexit, as imports sent in the opposite direction declined. I wonder whether the Minister can come to the Dispatch Box and advise the House on this matter. With a post-Brexit imbalance in trade, with Irish imports up 20% in the first six months of 2021 and GB exports to Ireland down by more than £2.5 billion, do they not recognise that, for GB—not Northern Ireland—Brexit is a trade disaster?

From figures that I mentioned earlier, the hon. Member will know that the situation is improving for Scottish businesses. He will also know that the bulk of the disruption and slowdown has been because of the pandemic. We are now coming out of that, and we would love to have a constructive dialogue with his party and its Members of Parliament to ensure that businesses in their constituencies are getting the right support to seize the opportunities that are now opening up. If we provide the right support for businesses, this should be an exciting time when they will be able to thrive. I encourage the Scottish National party to come to terms with the fact that we have left the EU, and that we are determined to make a success of this and to plug the economy of every part of the UK back into the global economy. The sooner that SNP Members come to terms with that and start pulling in the right direction, the better off their constituents will be.

Big landmark trade agreements such as those with Japan, New Zealand and Australia make the headlines, but the excellent work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing to remove trade barriers around the world also creates big new opportunities for businesses in my constituency of Dudley South. What progress is being made on the work to remove the trade barriers that restrict the flow of British goods and services?

Every year, we break down barriers across the world, and this year there has been a 20% increase in the number of barriers that we have broken down, benefiting businesses across the whole of our United Kingdom—in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We look forward to continuing this work to generate more jobs for people across our country in the years ahead.

COP26 was an important step towards meeting our international climate commitments, but that must be carried through into all aspects of Government policy. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the environmental impact of trade, through both imports and exports, is mitigated as far as possible?

UK leadership through COP26 has been world respected and renowned. The Department for International Trade is now able to continue the extraordinary leadership shown by my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) as COP26 President to ensure that the technologies that the UK is developing, has developed and will continue to develop will be at the forefront of all matters environmental in order to help every part of the world meet its decarbonisation challenge.

What discussions have taken place with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office to place Afghan refugees in work in places such as Mash Direct and Willowbrook Foods in my constituency of Strangford, and across the agrifood sector in Northern Ireland, which is in need of migrant workers to fill the vacancies that presently exist?

I would be happy to get those Departments to give the hon. Gentleman some further details. Every Department across Government, including the Department for Education, is focused on ensuring that people who are coming here to restart their lives in safety are given every opportunity, and that their skills can be utilised. We are also thinking about how we can help those who are still left in country. I undertake that the FCDO will write to the hon. Gentleman.

As the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Fairtrade, I have been heartened by how many British people have been looking to support Fairtrade products, including bananas, coffee and chocolate, and to support Fairtrade producers and farmers around the world. Will the Minister continue to put fair trade at the heart of new trade deals so that we can continue to support these Fairtrade producers and farmers around the world?

As the Minister for Trade Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), mentioned earlier, now that we are a sovereign independent nation and can make trade deals in our own right, we want to ensure that we use trade for good and that the UK brings that leadership. Next year, we will be working closely with our African colleagues in particular to think about how we can boost trading relations and the support that we can provide to encourage the value chain to sit with those developing countries, which have the opportunity to grow their trade balance and ensure that they see the benefits of trade too.

I wonder what the Minister makes of the report in the Financial Times that far less than a trade deal, America will lift its steel tariffs if the UK violates article 16. Does she welcome America keeping control?

That story might be true in terms of how some people in the United States feel, but it is a false narrative. These are two entirely separate issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be discussing the issue of steel and other matters next week with her opposite numbers in the United States, but we not do ourselves any favours if we perpetuate these false narratives. They are entirely separate issues. I again encourage the hon. Gentleman and his party to start talking about what the UK has done to protect peace on the island of Ireland, and our reasonable request to the EU. He might also like to talk to his American friends about what the EU has done to disrupt that, including triggering article 16 on the most sensitive of goods—vaccines. We have acted in good faith. We will do more to tell America that we have acted in good faith and are determined to be pragmatic, and Lord Frost is going to do that. The hon. Gentleman has to separate false narratives from how some in the US feel.