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Business and Trade update

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 7 September 2023

Since Parliament adjourned for summer recess, the Department for Business and Trade has been carrying out a significant amount of activity in a number of areas. We are updating the House today on progress in these areas.

UK-India trade negotiations

The 11th round of UK-India free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations began on 5 July and concluded on 14 July in London. The 12th round of talks took place in Delhi from 8-31 August. Both rounds were conducted in a hybrid fashion.

During round 11, India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal, visited London. Discussions covered the status of the negotiations, as well as wider trade and investment opportunities for the UK and India. Shri Sunil Barthwal, India’s Commerce Secretary, also visited the UK during the round to meet with senior UK trade officials and take stock of progress made in the round.

During round 12, between 24-26 August, the Secretary of State visited India to attend the final trade and investment working group of the Indian G20 Presidency. During her visit, she again met with Minister Goyal. Their discussions focused on goods, services and investment. We agreed to hold round 13 in September.

UK-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) trade negotiations

The fourth round of UK-Gulf Cooperation Council free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations began on 17 July and concluded on 28 July in London. The round was held in a hybrid fashion.

Technical discussions were held across 23 policy areas over 44 sessions. Good progress was made and both sides remain committed to securing an ambitious, comprehensive and modern agreement fit for the 21st century.

UK-Israel trade negotiations

The third round of United Kingdom-Israel free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations began week commencing 23 July. The round was held in a hybrid fashion—UK officials travelled to Jerusalem for negotiations and others attended virtually.

We focused primarily on trade in services and procurement, which are key areas not covered by our current trading arrangements under the trade and continuity partnership agreement. Negotiators held text-based and technical discussions across 10 policy areas and 32 sessions in Jerusalem. Both sides continue to work towards an upgraded modern agreement and the fourth round of negotiations will take place in due course.

Smarter regulations

We intend to introduce legislation to further extend recognition of the CE mark in Great Britain for regulations managed by the Department for Business and Trade when parliamentary time allows.

Government have engaged extensively with industry to understand concerns about the requirement to use the UKCA mark on many products from December 2024. We have heard that the planned transition to UKCA poses challenges and costs for businesses. We have listened and we are taking action.

Businesses will have the flexibility and choice to use either the UKCA mark or the EU’s CE mark to place goods on the GB market. This approach is designed to minimise additional regulatory compliance costs for businesses while ensuring consumers can continue to access safe products. We will engage with industry to develop our proposed approach to product markings and CE recognition in a way that benefits both British businesses and consumers.

Departmental responsibility transfer update

Following machinery of Government changes, responsibility for the pre-existing provision for covid loan guarantees and the pre-existing Post Office working capital facility has transferred from the former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to the Department for Business and Trade.

Following review, it has been noted that at the Department for Business and Trade’s main estimate for 2023-24 Government officials did not include the cash required to meet payments for these pre-existing arrangements. Parliamentary approval for additional cash of £3,659,625,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the Department for Business and Trade. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £3,659,625,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund. The cash advance will be repaid upon receiving Royal Assent on the Supply and Appropriation Bill.

Shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme (SCGS)

Today the Secretary of State is laying a departmental minute describing a contingent liability arising from the launch of a shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme (SCGS) before Parliament.

The scheme is a finance instrument which will provide guarantees to banks in respect of loans made to vessel owners and operators seeking to place orders at UK shipyards. The shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme (SCGS) will guarantee a portion of the value of eligible loans, sharing the risk with lenders to encourage offers of finance to UK vessel owners and operators.

The SCGS is one of a number of targeted interventions being taken as part of over £4 billion of Government investment planned through the Government’s national shipbuilding strategy refresh, to encourage UK ship owners and operators to place new orders and upgrade their existing fleets with world-leading shipyards that are based up and down the UK. HM Treasury has approved the arrangements.