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Trade Barriers

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022

5. What steps her Department is taking to reduce barriers to global trade for British businesses. (902799)

12. What steps her Department is taking to reduce barriers to global trade for British businesses. (902811)

16. What steps her Department is taking to reduce barriers to global trade for British businesses. (902816)

In the past financial year, we have resolved 192 individual trade barriers in over 70 countries. Forty-five of these alone are estimated to be worth around £5 billion to British businesses over the next five years. The Department is working tirelessly to remove the most prominent bilateral trade barriers—work that has the potential to deliver £20 billion-worth of opportunities for businesses across the entire UK.

My right hon. Friend’s Department has done sterling work in achieving free trade deals with 60 or so countries around the world. However, many other countries are incredibly enthusiastic to do free trade agreements, and none more so than the Kingdom of Thailand. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Thailand, may I urge my right hon. Friend to do all he can to move talks beyond where they are now to secure a free trade agreement with the Kingdom of Thailand, which is keen to continue building on our great trading relationship?

First, I commend my hon. Friend for his work as a former Minister at the Department. He will be delighted to know that we have increased the number of countries with which we have a free trade agreement to 71, in addition to the European Union itself. I also commend him for his work as trade envoy to Thailand and Brunei. He will know that we had our first ministerial joint economic and trade committee with Thailand in June, and we have agreed to deepen our trade relationship by developing an enhanced trade partnership. There are no current plans in place for an FTA, but this enhanced trade partnership could be the first step in laying the foundations for a potential FTA in the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Gulf region offers huge opportunities for British businesses and their export potential? Is he able to update the House on his Department’s work in supporting trade to the region?

My hon. Friend is always looking for opportunities for Blackpool businesses and his constituency. He is right: the UK is negotiating an ambitious trade deal with the Gulf Co-operation Council, and an FTA is expected to boost trade between our economies by at least 16%. We also engage bilaterally with GCC countries. For example, a key recent success was being able to get Holland & Barrett vitamin and food supplements into Qatar, which was worth an estimated £250,000.

I commend the Minister of State on all the hard work he is doing—I am an avid follower of his Twitter feed, and it is interesting to find out which country he is in on any individual day. We do a lot of good exports of cars and so on, but one area we need to grow is invisibles—financial and other services. When we do trade agreements, are we putting enough effort into ensuring that our service sector can take full advantage of them?

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head—quite apart from the fact that he follows me so closely on Twitter. I would perhaps commend that more widely, and I hope my constituents get a look in from time to time. I thank my hon. Friend for that.

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head when he talks about the importance of the services sector. Services are 80% of our economy. We are the world’s second largest services exporter. I used to sit at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on trade, and it was often difficult to get the EU to focus as well as it might have done on services possibilities. We now have an independent trade policy, which allows us to give services the focus that UK service companies and service providers deserve, and financial services are very much at the heart of that. We always make sure that our services offer is right at the forefront of our FTA talks and other bilateral trade talks.

GE Power Conversion, which is based in my Rugby constituency, has strong relationships with shipowners and designers who are increasingly choosing to have ships built in China. They see opportunities for offering their expertise in electrification of large vessels, as the maritime sector decarbonises. Will the Minister provide some clarity on the Government’s approach to trade with businesses in China and give some indication of the steps that UK exporters need to take to compete with international competitors in that market and to gain full advantage of the opportunities that are available there?

In successive Government positions, I have always noticed how diverse the businesses are in my hon. Friend’s Rugby constituency, right at the very industrial heartland of this country. He is right to raise the matter of trade with China. The UK engages with China. We remain open to Chinese trade and investment, while ensuring that robust protections are in place to safeguard the UK’s prosperity, values and security. He raises the issue of GE. We are engaging DIT officials based both in the UK and in China and already engaging with GE.

I am not sure that I follow the Minister’s Twitter feed so avidly as other Members—[Interruption.] Easy! I suspect that he might have retweeted something that was published by the Conservative party earlier this year, which said:

“We’ve secured new free trade deals with over 70 countries since 2016. That’s over £800bn worth of new free trade.”

But that is not true, is it? Actually, the UK Statistics Authority has told the Conservative party to stop publishing such fibs. Did the Minister retweet that, and, if he did so, will he apologise?

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised that. He has pointed out the fact that we have done trade deals with 71 countries plus the EU, and that that is about £800 billion-worth of trade with those countries. He may have done this inadvertently, but he draws attention to the fact that the Labour party has failed pretty much to support any of the deals that he is quoting. It abstained on the Japan deal. It abstained on the Australia and New Zealand deals. I bet the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) did not mention that to the Australian Trade Minister when he saw him last week. According to his Twitter feed, the party split three ways on Canada. It has failed to support any of these trade deals over the years. It is a bit rich of the party to raise it now.

Of course the Minister will bluster and try to divert as much as he possibly can from the substance, as he normally does. Sir Christopher Chote from the UK Statistics Authority wrote to me, saying:

“It is misleading to describe the £800 billion figure as a measure of ‘new global trade’ resulting from the recent deals.”

That is black and white. Will the Minister now apologise on behalf of his party and Ministers for sharing that tweet and misinformation and set the record straight? Yes, or no?

May I start by correcting the hon. Gentleman: it is actually Sir Robert Chote who is the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority? I do not resile from the fact that we have concluded free trade agreements with 71 countries plus the EU. I notice, of course, that he voted against the EU deal, preferring no deal. I checked before coming here exactly what the SNP’s record was on these deals. I will read it out. On Japan, it was against —[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Bowie, you got carried away yesterday. I know that it is Christmas; do not let me give you that present.

I checked the record. On Japan, the SNP was against. On Singapore, it was against. On Canada, it was against. On South Africa, it was against. On Korea, it was against. On Ukraine, it was even absent. So I will not take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman about the 71 deals. Perhaps he might start supporting a trade deal for once, and then he can get behind British exporters.

As an active Member of Parliament for my constituency, I know that my Northern Ireland businesses are subject to trade barriers and red tape day in, day out, as we are subject to different trading guidelines from the rest of the UK. The Minister is always helpful, so will he tell us what steps will be taken to address the delay in the passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, to ensure that Northern Ireland can truly be a full economic partner of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I strongly believe in the actual and potential capabilities of Northern Ireland as a great exporting part of the UK. Northern Ireland absolutely plays a full part in our free trade agreements. One standout feature of the Australia deal was about the ability of Northern Irish machinery exporters—a big amount of machinery goes from Northern Ireland to Australia and to New Zealand. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Northern Ireland protocol is an active area of negotiation between my colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Commission. I am sure that he and I will look forward to seeing a resolution for those barriers; we recognise that the Northern Ireland protocol is not working for the people of Northern Ireland and we look forward to seeing a resolution in due course.

Surely it is vital that the Government support British businesses, but even senior Conservatives have admitted that the Government have failed on that front. As it is nearly Christmas, I thought we would indulge in a game of “guess who?”. Does the Minister know if the Secretary of State knows which one of her colleagues called the UK’s trade deals “one-sided”? Was it: the former Environment Secretary; the former exports Minister; or her boss, the Prime Minister?

I thank the hon. Lady for her festive cheers and Christmas quiz. I am immensely proud, as I know the Secretary of State is, of our teams, right across the Department for International Trade, who are out negotiating. We are negotiating with more partners at the moment than any other country in the world on free trade agreements. Those negotiation rounds have been going on recently, into December, with people working incredibly hard to land the best deals for Britain. I am just looking forward to the day when perhaps the Labour party and the other Opposition parties might start supporting these deals, getting behind British business and British exporters into our excellent free trade future.