I welcome the Minister for Trade Policy to his new post. I am delighted to have him opposite us at the Dispatch Box. I also pay tribute to Greg Hands for the work that he did in this Department. We had many voluble exchanges in Committee and on the Floor of the House and he always dealt with them with exceptional good humour. I am sure that he will return to the Front Bench at a later stage and I look forward to that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate to set out our position on the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement. The relationship with Japan is, as many have said, of enormous importance, and we on the Labour Benches want to ensure that our future co-operation boosts trade and jobs in both our economies.
Exports make up 30% of our national economic output, and we celebrate the jobs and the myriad other benefits that come from international trade. No country exemplifies the importance of foreign investment to our economy more than Japan. It is Japanese companies that have chosen to invest billions in the manufacturing capital of this country over many decades, and with that investment has come jobs—good jobs, skilled jobs. Some 3,800 are directly employed by Toyota, 7,000 directly employed by Nissan, and 3,400 directly employed by Honda. We could double those figures when we factor in the indirect employment in the UK that comes from these companies—the manufacturers of parts that go into their supply chain and the logistics companies that ensure their just-in-time delivery systems.
I was at Honda a week ago last Friday speaking both with the unions and the management in Swindon. A new car rolls off its production line every 69 seconds, and its just-in-time supply chain is critical to its performance. That is why workers at that plant were telling me of their strong support for Labour’s position on a new customs union that would stop disruption to that supply chain and why they cannot understand the Government’s red line that there should be no such customs union after we leave the EU.
The Government have put our trading relationship with Japan under enormous strain because of their disorganised approach to Brexit. Companies such as Honda will speak for themselves, but many working there cannot understand why the Government are taking such a risk with their livelihoods. Japan is one of our key export partners. It accounted for £12.5 billion of our exports in 2016.