Today we celebrate an important agreement with a long-standing and close ally and, more widely, a further landmark for free trade and a commitment to closer relations with Asia. I congratulate the new Minister, my hon. Friend George Hollingbery, on both his elevation and the case he made in favour of the agreement, while also thanking my right hon. Friend Greg Hands for all he did for the new Department for International Trade.
The contrast with the other side of the House is striking: acres of unoccupied Benches, considerable misgivings about free trade, Divisions on what should be uncontested issues and appeals to colleagues by sensible free traders such as Mr Leslie, who is not in his place now, for his party not to be the party of narrow protectionism. It is a disappointing sight, with the shadow Secretary of State the closest thing we have in this country at the moment to a Trump-style mercantilist, unable, sadly, to see the benefits to consumers from lower tariffs and lower costs of imported goods bringing down our cost of living and inflation, as well as opening markets for our goods and services, especially to Japan, where the power of the “made in Britain” brand is strong and above all based on the quality of product and service.
There are issues ahead, of course, and I would welcome comments from the Minister on some of them in the time remaining. We will need confirmation that this agreement will be rolled over during the transition and thereafter extended until it can be widened and deepened. When does the Minister expect progress on this? There may be opportunities to bring down the cost of Japanese electrical vehicles which would speed up the reduction of both diesel vehicles and emissions in the UK. What assessment has the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy made of the potential for this? And what opportunities has the trade and working group identified for us to take forward? What would be the impact on the terms of this and any other relevant bilateral agreements were the UK to be part of a future trans-Pacific partnership that includes Japan?
Our value to Japanese foreign direct investment depends not least on the ease with which manufactured goods here can access EU markets. Are Ministers clear about the implications of that? In terms of future transparency and parliamentary oversight, does the Minister agree that pre-consultation is the key? What is unsatisfactory about the EU withdrawal agreement arrangements is the idea that after a negotiation Parliament can send the Government back to the negotiating table; that is not a very practical approach. Now that we have EU-negotiated agreements with Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and Japan—not all implemented yet—this encouraging progress in the continent where growth is most likely to be the greatest gives us further opportunities to expand, for example through a services agreement with Hong Kong, Australasia, China and the nations of south-east Asia as well as India.
In all of this, the opportunities for our international trade to go further and deeper are considerable. Nothing, of course, will be easy, but I hope the Minister will make a statement that will be strongly supportive of much closer UK trading relationships with Asia, where we need to open many doors in lands where trust is so important.