Bilateral EU Free Trade Agreements

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd July 2014.

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Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield 11:30 am, 22nd July 2014

What recent progress has been made on negotiations on bilateral EU free trade agreements; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

Earlier this month the European Union held the latest negotiating rounds on two major free trade agreements with the United States and Japan respectively. We are aiming to agree these deals next year. Between them they could add £15 billion to the United Kingdom’s economy each year.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am grateful for that answer, although I think it is unfortunate that because of our membership of the European Union, we cannot enter into bilateral agreements ourselves. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that the transatlantic trade and investment partnership will provide a useful boost to Jaguar Land Rover and other motoring companies in the west midlands and elsewhere?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

A successful TTIP deal would indeed provide great opportunities for the United Kingdom’s very successful automotive industry, which has hit records in both production and exports during the lifetime of this Government. It would also benefit other areas of this country, most notably Scotland.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

The Minister is trying to catch me out by mentioning Scotland, but he knows that there are major concerns in three areas about the TTIP between the EU and the US. One is food safety, with the use of hormones in the US, which may be forced into Europe. Secondly, there is the problem with the threat to public services and privatisation of the service. The third area of concern is dispute settlement in other agreements, which allows tobacco companies to take countries such as Australia to court for introducing packaging which show people the damage caused by smoking tobacco. Will the Minister give me an assurance that we will not sign up to these three items without bringing them before the House for agreement?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

As regards food safety, clearly we should be guided at all times by rigorous scientific analysis of what the risks amount to. On investor-state dispute settlements, the United Kingdom is already party to more than 90 of these, and the TTIP would provide explicit protection for the right to regulate, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s fears would be realised.

Photo of Stephen Mosley Stephen Mosley Conservative, City of Chester

It is estimated that EU-US free trade will save the average family £400 a year through cheaper prices and increased competition. With such huge potential benefits, will my right hon. Friend push to ensure that the TTIP negotiations are completed as quickly as possible?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

We believe that it is in the interests of every family in the United Kingdom that this successful trade deal is concluded as soon as possible. Priority areas for us include the automotive industry, financial services, procurement, agriculture, and food and drink. There are tremendous opportunities for British business through a successful TTIP negotiation.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

Would it not be sensible for the Minister to ensure that his boss is properly briefed on the benefits to Britain of a successful EU-US trade deal, perhaps before the Foreign

Secretary is next tempted to go on the airwaves and talk up the possibility of a British exit from the European Union?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington The Minister for Europe

The entire Government, since we came into office in May 2010, have made it a priority to increase the prosperity of the whole of Europe, including the United Kingdom, through a commitment to free trade—a priority that was sadly neglected under the Government in whom he served.