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Business Exports

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

Businesses are at the heart of the Government’s export strategy, “Made in the UK, Sold to the World”, and of our shared ambition to reach £1 trillion in annual exports by 2030. In the past year, the UK has become the fifth largest exporter of goods and services in the world. Just last week, I personally led a delegation of 20 businesses to the Three Seas summit in Romania, connecting with over 1,500 representatives to help secure contracts, work and export opportunities in the region’s 13 member states.

In my constituency, companies such as EyeOL, Lindal Valve, Peli BioThermal, Friction and Signature Flatbreads all export globally, along with 198 smaller businesses that export through Amazon, yet apparently only 10% of companies export. What more can we do to get businesses to export, not just to Europe but globally? Apparently, businesses that export pay higher wages, so this is part of levelling up, too.

My hon. Friend is a great champion for his businesses and helping them to export. He is absolutely right that free trade agreements and memorandums of understanding are opening up new markets for us, but of course we want to make sure that everyone makes the most of those opportunities. That is why we are ensuring that UK exporters have the skills they need through our innovative export academy; the information they need to capitalise on new deals through the FTA utilisation strategy; the advice they need through the export support service; and the financial backing they need through UK Export Finance. My hon. Friend also made the very powerful point that companies that export pay higher wages.

Anglesey’s freeport is a fantastic opportunity to boost the economic prosperity of my constituency of Ynys Môn. Working with the Institute of Export and International Trade, Bangor University and Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, our Anglesey freeport is set to create the first Welsh trade centre of excellence. Does the Minister agree that that trade centre is central to local people having the skills to take advantage of the high-skill, high-wage employment opportunities that the freeport will deliver, and that it will be the start of Anglesey’s economic renaissance?

I think we can all agree that my hon. Friend has campaigned powerfully to secure that freeport and the opportunities it will create for many of her constituents. Good news is already coming in, with Westinghouse saying that it will headquarter there, creating jobs and opportunities. Of course, we are looking forward to getting more details and ensuring that the trade centre for excellence is located there too, which will provide another win for my hon. Friend.

I ran export programmes in my business career before coming to this place, and I always talk to the companies I meet about whether they are exporting and what more can be done.

Steady—I haven’t asked my question yet! The message from that experience is that perceived barriers can deter activity—perhaps perceived risk or complexity. What more can be done to link potential exporters with mentors who can share their experience, overcome those perceptions and get more companies exporting?

My hon. Friend has a huge amount of experience in this area, and I am very grateful for all the advice he provides. He makes a very good point. That is why our campaign, “Made in the UK, Sold to the World”, uses localised marketing for small businesses across the country to help them make the best of their abilities. To my hon. Friend’s point, we have a growing cohort of over 360 successful champions across the UK —entrepreneurs and business leaders who can share their experience and inspire new firms to become exporters.

New analysis from the House of Commons Library that I am publishing today shows that since 2010 our trade with dictatorships has grown by over £135 billion and that it is growing twice as fast as our trade with the free world. Trade dependence on dictatorships is a risk, so when will the Minister set out a plan to define and de-risk our critical supply chains and begin growing our trade with nations that are free?

I am responsible for supply chains and critical minerals too; several months ago, I refreshed our critical minerals strategy. We are looking at how we ensure that we are building resilience and ensuring that our supply chains are stable.

I am also working with a number of industry representatives to put in place an import supply chain strategy as well. We know that there are kinks in supply chains and that there are issues of economic coercion around the world. We want to ensure that we have stable supply chains to protect our advanced manufacturing sector. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State points out that I am also the sanctions Minister. We are ensuring that that work is now co-ordinated, not only across Whitehall but internationally.

Those of us on the Business and Trade Committee are very much aware of the sterling work done by officials in furtherance of the trade deal with India. However, in the revelation at the G20 summit of the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment—the counter to China’s belt and road project through a US-backed trade corridor to speed up links between Europe, the middle east and India—there was no mention of the UK. Did our Government decline to be involved or were we not invited?

I was in front of the Select Committee; that session would have been afterwards. I have just been informed that the Prime Minister is very much focused on securing a trade deal and on the other details that the hon. Gentleman raised. Because it is a Select Committee issue, I will make sure that he gets all the details in writing.

During the recess, I visited Heathcoat Fabrics, an innovative export business in Tiverton; its achievements include selling to NASA a device that helped land the Mars rover on the surface of Mars. Earlier this year, HMRC rejected Heathcoat’s research and development claim without so much as a meeting. Will the Minister talk with colleagues at the Treasury to establish why Heathcoat Fabrics and other innovative export businesses are having R&D claims rejected this year?

According to the International Monetary Fund, British exports to France and Germany since 2019 are down—by 14% to France and 17% to Germany. US exports to both are up by 20%; Canada’s are up by 23% and Italy’s are up by 29%. Ministers will not back an industrial strategy, have cut funding to get businesses to trade shows and will not negotiate a veterinary agreement. Why does this Minister think that everyone else has got so much better recently at selling things to our nearest neighbours?

Members choose which numbers they want to throw out, but those do not necessarily reflect reality. I thought it was fantastic that we are now the eighth largest manufacturer in the world; I believe that we leap-frogged France—leap-frogging the French is always good to get on the record.

Actually, exports are most definitely up. In the 12 months to June 2023, UK exports rose by £139 billion, an increase of 8% once adjusted for inflation. In the same period, goods exports reached £428 billion, an 11% increase when adjusted for inflation. Perhaps we should reflect on the opportunities for all the businesses in our constituencies.