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Topical Questions

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022

Yesterday, I returned from Delhi after holding trade talks with my counterpart, Minister Piyush Goyal, during the sixth round of the UK-India free trade agreement negotiations. We agreed that an ambitious, balanced deal that works for both our countries can be reached and should be reached at the earliest opportunity. Meeting key UK and Indian businesses at the UK India Business Council and Confederation of Indian Industry trade conference made clearer still the opportunities that the FTA would create for businesses and future generations in both our countries. I look forward to updating the House at the end of our round.

In 2019, our trade with CPTPP countries reached £110.7 billion, so does my right hon. Friend share my optimism that joining the bloc will increase our national prosperity? Does she agree that free trade and helping businesses such as those in Orpington to export are how we will create genuine, long-term, sustainable wealth?

I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for CPTPP. Joining CPTPP will offer new opportunities for businesses in Orpington and across the UK. The potential increase to UK GDP is projected to be £1.8 billion. More than 99% of British goods exported will be eligible for tariff-free trade, including in new markets such as Malaysia. Customs procedures will become clearer and more efficient. Firms working in services will have increased market access, greater transparency and predictability.

May I wish all hon. Members a very happy Christmas? In the spirit of Christmas cheer, I will offer the Minister for Trade Policy some help after his struggles in the Christmas quiz from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) earlier: it was, of course, the Prime Minister who said that the Australia deal was “one-sided”.

There is more:

“The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK”.—[Official Report, 14 November 2022; Vol. 722, c. 424.]

Those are not my words, but the words of the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). Quite simply, why should anyone have confidence in the Conservatives’ trade policy when they do not have confidence in it themselves?

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. The Australia free trade agreement is a great deal. It will boost the household wages going into our pockets by an estimated £900 million. It will grow the UK economy to be an estimated £2.3 billion bigger in 2035. It will see the removal of all tariffs on UK exports, which will make it easier to sell all UK goods, from cars to chocolate and Scotch whisky. There will be lower prices at home. I had a meeting with the Australian Trade Minister, and we had a very good conversation. I think it is a shame that the shadow Secretary of State did the same and is now coming here to say negative things about the deal.

If the Secretary of State thinks that those views are nonsense, I suggest she takes them up with the Prime Minister and the former Secretary of State. It was their judgment that I put to her, not my words.

On trade, the reality is that the Conservatives are delivering either bad deals or no deals at all. That is what happens when we have a Government who are high on rhetoric and devoid of strategy, with workers and businesses paying the price. Let me ask a simple question. If the Government will not hit their target of 80% of our trade being under FTAs by the end of the year—and they won’t—when will they hit it?

As Secretary of State, I have been very clear that what is important is the substance of trade deals, not the timing. It is about the deals, not the day. I am negotiating quality trade deals for the UK that will last for generations to come. We are thinking about the future, not trying to re-fight the Brexit debate.

T2. Medtrade in my constituency has not only been supplying battlefield bleed control packs to Ukraine, but recently received approval for a new treatment for postpartum haemorrhage, which affects 14 million women globally and causes 80,000 deaths a year. Will the Secretary of State join me in meeting Medtrade in Crewe to understand how we can better help such innovative life sciences companies in our constituencies? (902819)

I thank my hon. Friend and Medtrade for their support in sending supplies to Ukraine. My Department is committed to supporting innovative life sciences companies; he will have seen the Board of Trade’s recent report on life sciences. DIT North West has worked with Medtrade for several years to grow its exports and will continue to support its export journey. I am sure that the exports Minister—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie)—will be happy to meet him to further discuss what we can do.

The Secretary of State recently announced signing a memorandum of understanding with the US state of South Carolina focusing on life sciences and automotive—areas that are very important to the north-east. Could she set out exactly how businesses in Newcastle can benefit from that memorandum of understanding and whether it is supposed to compensate for the lack of any trade agreement with the United States?

It was me who signed the deal with South Carolina last Wednesday, and the hon. Lady can see the deal for herself on We have done deals with Indiana and North Carolina. Offshore wind is important for her area of the country, and North Carolina brought in an offshore wind delegation to see its governor just a couple of months after the signing of the deal, so these deals are leading to tangible opportunities.

T4. As was rightly pointed out earlier, food price inflation is a huge problem for British consumers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should look at negotiating trade in tomatoes from Morocco, which has the potential of saving about £180 million a year? That would be a big improvement for the British consumer, as every little helps each individual. (902822)

I am delighted that my hon. Friend raised Morocco, because although they were defeated in the end, their performance was marvellous in the World cup last night. We have a new agreement with Morocco. We are keen to diversify our sources of food supply. We had the inaugural UK-Morocco trade and investment sub-committee meeting in July, and I look forward to doing more with Morocco, as I am sure my hon. Friend does.

Will the Government accept that if the anti-dumping duties placed on Chinese imported aluminium extrusions are too low, the result could be the loss of thousands upon thousands of British jobs?

As I said a few moments ago, a report will be coming out very soon, and we will be able to comment further at that point. We have had many representations, and the Trade Remedies Authority has worked very carefully on these issues.

T5. The UK has a highly developed renewable energy sector, which includes many businesses based in my constituency. Across the world there are many countries eager to remove fossil fuel generation. Can the Minister give an assurance that the Department will do more to encourage our renewable energy sector to get more into the export market? (902823)

I can indeed. At the green trade and investment expo in Gateshead last month, I saw many companies from around the UK that are engaged in exporting renewable energies technology around the world. Indeed, the UK is home to world-leading companies in the design and development of renewable energy, and the Department for International Trade has already supported over £5 billion of exports across the energy and infrastructure sectors in the past.

The Centre for Business Prosperity at Aston University has estimated that 42% of British exports have disappeared from European shelves since Brexit. Is the Secretary of State proud of her party’s 12-year record in charge of export policy?

The hon. Member obviously was not listening to what I said earlier. Trade with the EU is actually up 18%. Instead of coming here and talking down Scottish and British businesses that are exporting to the continent and around the world, he should join us—he should be here championing Scotch whisky exports, which are up; he should be here championing Scotch beef exports, which are up; and he should be here championing the great Scottish financial services exports, which are up around the world and transforming lives for the better.

T6. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on trade envoy positions? Following my recent Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office report on the Commonwealth, which I am sure he has read, will there be a specific trade envoy position for the Commonwealth family of nations? (902825)

My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate of ties with the Commonwealth. We already have a trade envoy appointed to 15 Commonwealth nations. We have no plans to add a dedicated Commonwealth trade envoy to the programme. We have trade agreements with 33 Commonwealth members, with a further 16 benefiting from reduced tariffs, and six of the 11 trans-Pacific partnership countries are Commonwealth members.

Northern Ireland’s food and drink exports are worth some £5.4 billion, and we export 65% of the sector’s manufacturing to the UK, the EU and the rest of the world. What discussions has the Minister had with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, in which I declare an interest, to commit to protecting Northern Ireland’s agriculture industry in any future trade deal?

I have not personally had any meetings with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, but one of my Ministers has. I want to emphasise that our export strategy is focused on such issues. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me with more specifics, I would be very happy to take them up on his behalf.

T7. The road to net zero provides many local job-creation opportunities on the north East Anglian coast in technologies such as offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture. The Government are backing these industries, but significant private sector investment is required. I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend outlined what her Department is doing to attract inward investment to these exciting emerging sectors. (902826)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work not only as the MP for Waveney but as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the British offshore oil and gas industry. He is well apprised of what we are doing in the energy sector. DIT and the Office for Investment work directly with project leads, investors and financial institutions, and we are seeing excellent progress. For example, ScottishPower is investing £2.5 billion in its East Anglia ONE project, the first of four in the region, including a £25 million state-of-the-art operations and maintenance facility in Lowestoft. Events such as the recent green trade and investment expo in Gateshead, which I mentioned, are showcasing UK opportunities to the world in many technologies, such as carbon capture and hydrogen.

Exports such as squid from the Falklands are an enormously important part of the economies of our overseas territories and Crown dependencies. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that everything possible is being done to support the trading relationships of this important part of the British family?

We work closely with the Crown dependencies and overseas territories to ensure their interests are actively represented in our FTA programme and trade negotiations. DIT officials have fortnightly contact with them, and the Minister for Trade Policy has recently engaged with them and will continue to do so.

I was interested to hear the Secretary of State’s update on India. Can she go into more detail on how many chapters have closed and on the big opportunities in this trading relationship?

Sixteen chapters have closed. I returned from India just yesterday, and I am still a bit jetlagged. We had two days of invigorating trade talks. Minister Goyal and I had face-to-face discussions on the priority areas within the FTA, including goods, services and investment. I had meetings with multiple businesses that the embassy and all our fantastic officials are supporting.

The Minister for Trade Policy mentioned the North Carolina trade agreement he has just signed. Can he explain how this will help businesses in places such as West Oxfordshire to export to every corner of the United States, our largest trading partner?

We have now signed three of these deals. Last week, we brought Utah a bit closer and we have agreed to start negotiations with California. As a practical example, an offshore wind delegation went to see Governor Cooper of North Carolina just a few months after the deal. We had the first meeting of the working group on Indiana last Monday, at which we talked about increasing the opportunities for UK firms to bid into state procurement markets in the United States. As we know, the US is a very federal system and some state procurement markets offer great potential for companies across the UK, including in my hon. Friend’s Oxfordshire constituency.

We have recently signed several agreements with Indonesia, which is good news, and the follow-up is now critical. Will my right hon. Friend confirm, first, that the next round of Joint Economic and Trade Committee talks will happen here in London in the first quarter of next year? Secondly, will the new Government-to-Government framework have Indonesia as a priority? Thirdly, and perhaps most intriguingly, can we move to negotiations on an FTA as soon as possible?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on being a doughty champion of Indonesia and on being such a good trade envoy. He is right that we want to have a JETCO early next year. The Department is liaising closely with its counterparts in Indonesia, and I would be delighted to invite him to assist us in all our engagements to make sure we see all the good things that he wants to happen.

I start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for leading us in the one-minute silence commemorating 80 years since this House recognised that the holocaust was taking place in Nazi-occupied Europe. It was a powerful moment for the House, and thank you, too, for the welcome you gave to the incredible holocaust survivors who are with us this morning.

Following the Minister’s meeting with the French Trade Minister Olivier Becht yesterday, does he agree that there is a new mood of optimism around the Franco-British bilateral relationship, and that the planned summit in the new year provides a really good moment to think about deepening our ties of co-operation, especially on trade and energy security, and increasing people-to-people contact?

I join my right hon. Friend in commending you, Mr Speaker, for the commemoration earlier today. My right hon. Friend is quite right that I had a very good meeting with Olivier Becht yesterday. It lasted a full hour, online, and we covered an enormous range of issues, including preparations for the UK-France summit coming up early next year. That will be a great opportunity for us to build on that relationship.

As the Minister responsible for exports—my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie)—said, trade with the EU is going back up. That is great news and we need to make sure that the trading relationship with France—we are the third largest investor in France and that is a really important relationship —continues to flourish. I know that my right hon. Friend, as chair of the all-party group for France, will take a keen and continuing interest in that.