Trade Policy

– in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 16th July 2018.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade 4:29 pm, 16th July 2018

In October last year, my Department published a White Paper, “Preparing for our Future UK Trade Policy”, in which we set out the Government’s commitment to transparency and inclusiveness in our future trading arrangements. The paper also set out our intention to boost our trade relationships with old friends and new allies, expanding access to markets across the globe. Today, I can set out the role of Parliament, the devolved Administrations, public, business and civil society, and how the Government intend to engage with those groups as we embark on our new international trade agreements to benefit the whole of the UK, and ensure we meet our commitments to an inclusive and transparent trade policy.

Scrutiny of our future trade arrangements is vital as we take powers back from the EU into UK law and begin negotiating our own new free trade agreements. I would like, at this stage, to make a distinction between our free trade agreements with new partners, to which this statement relates, and continuity trade agreements—those being legislated for in the Trade Bill tomorrow and to which the customs Bill powers being debated today will also apply. With that distinction in mind, for our new FTAs we will now put in place a structured approach to engagement to provide clarity on how stakeholders can feed into this vital work that will help to shape the trading future of our country.

To ensure that our new agreements and future trade policy work for the whole of the UK, it is vital that Parliament, the devolved Administrations, local government, business, trade unions, civil society and the public from every part of the UK have the opportunity to engage and contribute from the outset of the process. On Parliament specifically, Mr Speaker, the Government are committed to providing Parliament with the ability to inform and scrutinise new trade agreements in a timely and appropriate manner. I want to set out how this will be achieved.

We will ensure that parliamentarians are given the opportunity to consider the level of ambition of the Government’s approach to negotiations and the potential implications of any agreements. We will explore the best process to do that, but in the first instance it could take the form of a general debate. In addition, the Government will keep both Houses updated on the progress of negotiations through statements and updates to the International Trade Committee as the negotiations progress. This will include timely analysis at appropriate points to support decision making. Of course, as in any negotiation, a certain level of confidentiality will be necessary to help ensure the best outcome for the UK, and the updates will be given with that in mind.

At the end of a negotiation, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 will continue to apply as it does to all treaties that are subject to ratification. Under the Act, the Government will lay before Parliament any treaty they intend to ratify, alongside an explanatory memorandum which will summarise the content of each trade agreement. Consistent with best practice, with any new international trade partners the Government will also, at the appropriate time, publish an impact assessment. To implement a new trade agreement with a new partner, the Government will bring forward a bespoke piece of primary legislation when required for each new future trade agreement that requires changes to legislation and where there are no existing powers. Parliament will therefore have the opportunity to scrutinise the new legislation in the normal way. Mr Speaker, I believe that this process will strengthen Parliament’s ability to shape and scrutinise the Government’s ambitious trade policy agenda and our new free trade agreements with partners around the world.

To develop and deliver a UK trade policy that benefits business, workers and consumers across the whole of the UK, we need to reflect the needs and individual circumstances of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will work closely with the devolved Administrations on an ongoing basis to deliver an approach that works for the whole of the UK. As part of this, we are conducting a series of collaborative policy roundtables with devolved Administrations and key stakeholders in all parts of the country, which will draw on their knowledge and expertise, recognising their role in helping to deliver the objectives of our trade policy and future negotiations. We will ensure that the devolved Administrations are able to inform the Government’s approach to negotiations throughout the consultation period and, of course, with subsequent engagement throughout the entire negotiation process. We will also engage more widely in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, holding meetings with a wide range of stakeholder groups. Let us not forget the English regions, whose involvement in this process is also of vital importance and who, from the north-east to the south-west, make a huge contribution to our trading performance. They, too, will be fully involved.

As we prepare to begin negotiating future trade agreements once we leave the EU, we will also want groups and any individuals with an interest to have their say and inform our approach to negotiations. Our White Paper asked how the Government should seek views from the public, business, trade unions and civil society. We were grateful to receive thousands of responses. The responses made clear the need to move to a more formalised engagement structure, so that stakeholders are clearer on when and how they can offer input and how their information will be used. It is therefore important that we ensure that the public, and wider stakeholders, have access to this process online to make sure that we reach the widest possible range of people, in terms of both diversity and geography. I will write to all Members with website and address details so that we can fully inform and involve our constituents.

My Department will also convene a strategic trade advisory group to bring expert external insight to trade policy making and to advise Ministers. We are inviting expressions of interest in membership and will appoint 14 members, based on their technical expertise, to take seats on the group. We will ensure that the group represents the varied interests of business, workers, consumers and non-governmental organisations in all parts of the UK. More details can be found on the Department for International Trade gov.uk pages.

I have said that all stakeholders and members of the public must be able to inform the Government’s approach, and that is why we will launch public consultations for each potential new trade agreement. If we are to learn the lessons from agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, we need to ensure that people are able to express their views and feel that they have been taken into account. I want people to feel invested in this process and that the benefits of free trade are shared across the length and breadth of the UK. The Government’s consultations will therefore last for 14 weeks, giving everyone the opportunity to share their objectives and any concerns about potential new agreements. I will update the House on potential agreements that will be subject to consultation in the coming days. My ministerial colleagues and I will continue to meet representatives from business and civil society and my officials will continue to welcome technical policy discussions with a broad range of experts. We will also hold a range of outreach events to engage with stakeholders across the whole of the United Kingdom.

The views gathered through the Government’s consultation and engagement will ensure an informed and well evidenced approach to each of our trade negotiations. I can confirm that before entering formal negotiations, we intend to publish an “Outline Approach” to each negotiation, setting out the high-level objectives and scope of that negotiation. This document will be accompanied by a scoping assessment at that point.

As I have said many times, the decision to leave the European Union was not a decision to retreat from the world. In fact, we need to embrace it—to trade more, not less, and to fight protectionism and break down the barriers to trade wherever we find them. As agreed at the European Council meeting in March, the UK will be able to begin to negotiate new trade agreements from April 2019. It is therefore right that we set out how we intend to gather views from across the country now to inform the Government’s approach to new trade negotiations before those talks begin, and as they progress to conclusion.

As we decide our own trade policy for the first time in over 40 years, I am sure that Members of the House will agree that it is only right that we all get a say. I am confident that our proposals will deliver the scrutiny and transparency that the UK public, including Parliament, expect and deserve, and I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 4:38 pm, 16th July 2018

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for advance sight of his statement. I have to say, when he said that he wanted to boost his relationships with old friends and new allies, I did wonder for a moment whether he was talking about the previous Foreign Secretary and the current Prime Minister, but it seemed not.

The Trade Bill completed its Committee stage more than six months ago. Since then, the Government have been too scared to bring it back for fear of what their Back Benchers might do to it, but tomorrow, this House will debate Report stage and Third Reading of the Trade Bill, so it was with a certain amount of disbelief that I saw that today of all days, the Secretary of State would be making a statement on “Delivering a transparent and inclusive UK trade policy”. I thought to myself, “This man’s having a laugh.” He is.

For months, since the first publication of this flawed piece of legislation last October, we have been saying that it fails to do what the Government led us to believe it would in the Gracious Speech at the state opening of Parliament—namely, to set out the legislative framework to deliver a transparent and inclusive UK trade policy. Business has been saying it; unions have been saying it; civil society has been saying it. Madam Deputy Speaker, did you ever hear of such a coalition? The International Chamber of Commerce, the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the EEF, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses all joined forces with the TUC, Unite the union, the Trade Justice Movement and even the Consumers’ Association, which publishes Which?, to tell the Government they needed to sort this out.

We tabled a series of amendments in Committee. The Government refused every one. So why this protestation, this deathbed Damascene conversion by the Secretary of State? It is a welcome confession, but as drafted the Bill does not provide what so many on the Government Benches told us was the point of leaving the EU. It does not give control over laws to this sovereign Parliament; it gives them to Ministers. What today in his statement has the Secretary of State done to change this? The words are warm. The detail is far from clear. Will he be accepting new clause 3 tomorrow? It sets out a proper scrutiny procedure for trade agreements. We tabled that amendment in Committee only to see it scorned. We welcome his statement that the Government will be bringing forward a proper consultation process in advance of future trade agreements. Does this mean he will be accepting our amendment 18 on consultation or our new clause 4 on respecting the rights of the devolved Administrations? The true penitent must not merely confess his sins; the true penitent must amend his ways. There is little in this statement that shows the Government are prepared to do so.

Modern trade agreements are so complex and extensive that they reach into nearly all aspects of government and policy, but they are not like domestic legislation, which can be repealed when it is no longer technically suitable or politically acceptable. Instead, they place legally binding obligations on Governments in perpetuity that cannot be simply amended or repealed, and yet those obligations can be agreed behind closed doors and in total secrecy by the Government’s negotiators alone. That is why it is incumbent upon Members of this House to ensure a rigorous and robust scrutiny framework for trade agreements.

Until now, the Government have rejected every single one of our amendments. It is welcome that, however late in the day, they have tabled amendments addressing at least some issues before tomorrow’s Third Reading, but they do not go far enough. They have now agreed with Labour that regulations should not be implemented under the negative resolution procedure. They have also agreed with Labour that there could be substantive variation in the roll-over agreements as compared to the corresponding EU agreements and have brought forward amendments that will require the Government to report on any such change. But of course as one hand gives, the other hand takes away, as they have also tabled an amendment that would allow them to ignore this, should they so choose. Reporting on a change is not the same as giving Parliament the power to amend it. I trust that, given the Secretary of State’s acknowledgement today of the Bill’s failings, he will be supporting those amendments that seek to rectify the shortcomings tomorrow.

Finally, why are we having this statement today? It could and should have been delivered as part of the debate on the Bill tomorrow. Indeed, any concessions could have been brought forward as amendments at any stage since it had its Second Reading last November. Today’s statement can only have been brought forward in a bid to limit time for this afternoon’s critical debate on the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill and to stave off any opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to expose the ludicrous position this Government have now got themselves into by saying they will accept European Research Group amendments that directly contradict the Chequers agreement.

A group of Ministers and Back-Bench Members within and outside the Cabinet now appear to be deliberately steering the Brexit negotiations on to the rocks of a no deal, with all the damaging consequences for jobs and our economy of moving disruptively on to World Trade Organisation rules. I believe the Secretary of State is one such. The warm words and platitudes of this statement do not mask the cynical political game he is playing and make a mockery of the role of this House in undertaking proper and rigorous debate of some of the most important legislation to come before us in 50 years.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

As no questions were actually raised in the hon. Gentleman’s response to my statement, I am tempted simply to sit down again.

One of the reasons we give advance notice to Front Benchers is to try to ensure that they are at least be talking about the same issue as we are. However, I am afraid the shadow Secretary of State does not seem to understand that the Trade Bill, which we will debate tomorrow, specifically does not involve future free trade agreements; it merely involves continuity agreements. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that point, I am not sure what else in the Bill he will understand.

Today’s statement related to new free trade agreements. I gave the House a commitment that I would set out, before the summer recess, what our proposals would be, in the context of transparency and inclusivity, when it came to negotiating those new free trade agreements. The fact that we are making statements during the negotiations, and giving updates to the International Trade Committee, shows that we have acted in good faith. I am afraid that this afternoon we have simply had bluster and bunkum instead of reason and rationality, and if anyone was making a mockery of anything, it was a mockery of Front-Bench duties.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. It will be obvious to the House that, as the statement made clear, this is about how Parliament, the devolved Administrations and the wider public will be engaged in the process of forming free trade agreements with new partners, and scrutinising those trade agreements. In other words, this is a relatively narrow canvas to which colleagues can fit their questions. The Chair will not entertain long speeches about anything to do with Brexit. I am sure that Members will find a way of asking the questions that they wish to ask, while keeping within the narrow canvas that I have just described.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Father of the House of Commons

I rather share the suspicion of Barry Gardiner that the only reason this non-urgent statement was made today was to reduce the already inadequate time that we will have in which to debate the highly important Bill that follows, which is likely to be squeezed into four hours for speeches and Divisions—although the hon. Gentleman then filibustered. I shall try to avoid contributing to that filibuster.

As you have given your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will not ask the full question that I was going to ask about the rumours that the Government will adopt, this afternoon, amendments that are directly inconsistent with the White Paper of a week ago, including amendments tabled by my hon. Friends. For instance, new clause 36 contradicts paragraph 17(a) of the White Paper, on page 17. Are any statements by the Government on its trade policy in future to be relied on for more than a week or two at the moment, and is it not rather premature for the Secretary of State to come here and explain exactly how we may eventually be contemplating new trade agreements of our own, which will take many, many years to achieve?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I will not take any more of the House’s time, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it is entirely untrue that that was the reason for the statement.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it, and indeed for the tone that he adopted. I am particularly grateful for what he said about enabling Parliament to scrutinise future trade deals in a timely fashion. However, it should be ensured that we have enough information to be able to scrutinise them properly.

I will not be as cynical as others, but I find it slightly odd that an urgent statement has been made about a nine-month-old document. Nevertheless, what was said was welcome, especially in relation to liaison with businesses, workers and non-governmental organisations, particularly those concerned with trade justice. I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that there will be sufficient sight and enough detail of future proposals for them to do their work as well.

I also welcome what the Secretary of State said about liaison with devolved institutions. However, it is not enough simply to have liaison, discussion and consultation if there are real implications that consent may be required. A role in setting the negotiating mandate may be necessary. Actively seeking consent throughout the process towards ratification is a process that I would have expected the Secretary of State to welcome, and I hope he will look at our new clauses 20 to 24 tomorrow in that regard.

But most importantly, I hope the Secretary of State takes on board when he is liaising—and I take him at his word that this will happen—the deep concern in society, in campaign groups and throughout all sorts of organisations about the implications of trade deals in the future for public safety, good hygiene and the environment, and understands that we never again, as he mentioned in his statement, want to get into a position such as we were with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where, after a short period of time, there was mass opposition to a bad treaty not discussed with the public in advance.

The Secretary of State talks about future trade deals, and I understand why he is making that distinction, but if we have a trade deal that is being rolled over but requires some tweaks or changes that are subsequently extended beyond five years, that may look very similar to a new trade deal. I hope he will look actively at having the same scrutiny of and consultation on those arrangements as he does simply for deals in the future.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for a response with some substance. He is quite right to say that the length of time available is important; it is why we have chosen a consultation period of 14 weeks—the EU, for example, has 12, and other countries have less than that—and it is important that we allow that to happen. He is also right that with TTIP many of the public felt they had not been involved from the beginning of the process; there was no equivalent process to the one we are setting out today for the pre-negotiation phase so that the public could set out their ambitions and objectives for any trade agreement.

On the issue of future agreements, I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at what this House has already agreed on CETA: chapters 23 and 24 specifically place restrictions on Governments from watering down in any way their labour or environmental laws for the promotion of trade. We have already agreed that that will be the basis of our future trade agreement with Canada, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to judge the Government on what we do, not on what is said.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

It will be brave man who does not acknowledge your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall stick faithfully to them.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the energy with which he is preparing the ground for these fiendishly complicated arrangements. May I endorse very strongly what he said about the TTIP process and the absolute need for people to understand clearly what is and is not involved in these questions and negotiations? Will he particularly do much more with our febrile and irresponsible press to convince them that these trade arrangements are not all about toxic chickens?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

My right hon. Friend is right: it is important that we explain what is involved. It is also important to genuinely consult, as he says. That is why the Government in their pre-negotiation phase are doing what has never been done to this extent before. Pascal Lamy, the former director-general of the World Trade Organisation, said we are leaving a period in trade which was about the protection of producers and entering one about the precaution of consumers. Our consumers are very much more interested in trade policy today than they have ever been, and therefore they will expect, and we have a duty to provide, the appropriate consultation for them.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East

This statement is about consultations in advance of future trading arrangements, so will the Secretary of State assure the House that he at no time consulted members of the European Research Group Conservative group on their four wrecking amendments wrecking the Chequers arrangement before they were tabled?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

Madam Deputy Speaker, of all Members of the House I know what it is like to invoke your wrath, so I will not stray into that territory about what may happen on legislation later today. All I can say is that the Government gave a commitment that before the recess we would come to the House with our proposals for consultation on and scrutiny of new free trade agreements, and that is exactly what we have done.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I strongly support the Government’s line that where we have an existing trade agreement through the EU, we are as entitled to take that over for us as it is for the residual EU. I trust my right hon. Friend will just crack on with that and have it ready by March 2019 in case we leave then, while having a different process for a new trade deal, which I am sure the public will welcome.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

We have always made it clear, as I did at the beginning of my statement, that there is a distinction between the continuity agreements covered in the Trade Bill that we will debate tomorrow and new free trade agreements, which we promised we would set out the scrutiny procedure for, and that is what has happened today. I know that it sometimes comes as a shock to the House when a Government do exactly as they said they would do in exactly the timescale allocated, but I am afraid that that is exactly what has happened today.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

The Secretary of State said in his statement:

“We will ensure that parliamentarians are given the opportunity to consider the level of ambition of the Government’s approach to negotiations and the potential implications of any agreements.”

Will he therefore confirm that the “potential implications” of, say, a US deal might include chlorinated chicken—toxic or otherwise—hormone-fed beef or GMO food?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The whole point of the negotiation phase, which is one of five phases of a free trade agreement, is that the public set out what they believe the level of ambition should be. Those who want to set restrictions on what they think the Government’s mandate in the negotiation should be will be free to express themselves during that period. That is exactly why we are putting this forward, because the worst thing would be to go into a negotiation when the public felt that their views had not been taken into account in any way. As I have said, this is not just about the Government being philanthropic in the trade space; it is also about our self-interest, because it makes the job much easier for the Government and for Parliament if the public feel that they have genuinely been consulted. As my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames said, one of the problems with the TTIP process was that the public felt that they had been ignored and that the negotiation had happened from start to finish away from public scrutiny. We have to try to avoid that happening in future if we are to take advantage of the freedom that new free trade agreements will give to the country.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Conservative, Chelsea and Fulham

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on outlining the broad parameters of how future trade policy and consultation will work. I think he is on exactly the right lines, particularly with the commitment to primary legislation for each individual trade deal. Will he tell us a bit more about the consultative roundtables that he has described? One of the things we will discover is that politicians and producer interests will quickly try to get to the front of them, so how will he ensure that consumers, consumer companies and consumer groups will have a proper voice in that consultation?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

As I mentioned earlier, one of the key elements will be the setting up of the strategic trade advisory group. We will ensure that we have representatives across that, including small and medium-sized enterprises, consumer representatives, development organisations and non-governmental organisations. I go back to the point that I made earlier: it is absolutely essential that people feel they have been genuinely consulted throughout the process; otherwise, they will say that they do not accept the agreement because there has not been sufficient transparency throughout the process.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I completely agree with the Secretary of State on two things. First, I agree that protectionism is on the rise, which is bad for us in this country. Secondly, I am delighted that he is sticking with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, because I wrote those clauses. I want to ask a specific question about deals that we do with new countries. Will every single one of them include human rights clauses?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave earlier, which was that the Government should be judged on what they are doing. In terms of the agreements we are now looking at and will be debating tomorrow, they all include those. I find it difficult to imagine that when we have a widespread consultation, that will not be a strong ask of the Government.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

But any scrutiny of and consultation on manufactures and food will be limited to tariff and quota, because we will continue to be bound by the acquis, won’t we?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I am not sure that that question was entirely within the scope of the statement, Madam Deputy Speaker. Even if we are looking purely at goods issues, I think that the ability of the United Kingdom to abolish or reduce to zero tariffs with the United States on cars, for example, would have been something that President Trump would have welcomed last week.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

If Scotland is an equal part of the United Kingdom, why can it not have a seat at the table when we are negotiating the free trade agreements?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

Back when we signed the memorandum of understanding, we made it clear that if there are areas where any of the devolved Administrations might have specific interests, that may allow us to have a seat at an international negotiation. Of course, that would involve having to further the Government’s position because, remembering that trade is still a reserved matter, we could not go into negotiations with someone sitting on the British side of the table who took a different view from the Government’s broader objective for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

My old mum told me that I should not cherry-pick rules. When we try to make free trade agreements with America, for example, will the Secretary of State confirm that, following the Chequers agreement last week, we will have to accept the common rulebook in its entirety and that nothing in those deals can deviate from it?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

If that is the agreement that we come to with the European Union, that would be the case, and my hon. Friend is right that there would as a result be some restrictions in the offers that we could make in a free trade agreement—it is pointless to state otherwise. However, there would still be considerable freedom on agricultural tariffs, for example, and on quotas, and many of things that many of the countries with whom we will be negotiating want would still be entirely within our gift.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, particularly the commitment to devolved region engagement. However, will he commit to embed and formalise that engagement in this policy, including in relation to the negotiating mandate?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I hope that I have set out the broad direction of travel on that, and we will now be negotiating and holding discussions with and informing the devolved Administrations to see how we can make that work in practice. I say to the hon. Lady in all candour that if trade is to be a reserved issue for the whole UK, it must become self-evident that its benefits are actually for the whole UK.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

For the avoidance of any doubt, will the Secretary of State confirm that none of these proposed arrangements would in any way be adversely affected if we left the EU without a deal and found ourselves operating on WTO terms?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The arrangements that I have set out today must stand alone and have to apply whatever final agreement we come to with the European Union. They are about the scrutiny of our future trade agreements. There are no pre-conditions attached to how we have devised the mechanism itself.

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

Appreciating that the scope of this question is about our future trade agreements, a business from my constituency said to me:

“We already work with and export to places like the US, Australia and South Africa, and I fail to see how leaving the single market and the customs union would enhance our ability to do any more of this.”

Will the Secretary of State therefore please clarify how that business can contribute to the consultation to ensure that it can actually make something of this new free trade world?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The whole point of free trade agreements is to gain market access where we do not have it today for the benefit of our businesses that want to export. I hope that businesses will outline their level of ambition as each trade agreement is set out so that the Government understand just what they think they could do if markets were more open than they are today.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. What reassurance is he able to offer those who say that the inclusion of agri-food in the common rulebook is a sop to farmers in southern Europe and a snub to potential partners in places such as north Africa and Latin America?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

One of the most recent comments I have read is that this would stop Britain being able to import food of a standard that we do not currently find acceptable. I have said at the Dispatch Box many times that the Government have no interest whatsoever in reducing the quality of the food that we have in the United Kingdom nor the standards by which it is produced. In any case, if we reduced our standards, that would undermine the reputation of the goods that we sell abroad. It is because of our high standards that, according to Barclays, 57% of Chinese consumers, for example, are willing to pay more for goods made or produced in the UK.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

The Secretary of State has committed to ensuring that the devolved Administrations are able to inform the Government’s approach to negotiations, but will he clarify what role they will have in the negotiations themselves and whether their consent will be sought before any trade agreement is ratified?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I would imagine that, in line with other agreements, we would seek legislative consent from the devolved Administrations where there were elements in which they were required to apply parts of those negotiations. I would hope that, because I believe our interests are one and the same, we would want to work together to ensure that what we get for UK consumers, UK producers and UK exporters are of maximum benefit.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

In my experience of public consultations, it is often the case that the people responding are not particularly well informed of the status quo, so will my right hon. Friend ensure that, as we move forward into this new way of working, we inform the public both of the situation as it currently is and of how it would be improved with the free trade agreements that are to be signed?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, as it is perhaps something I should have included in my statement. He is entirely right that, again to go back to the TTIP example, the public did not feel they were suitably informed. For each of the potential trade agreements we will make available to the public a summary of what a free trade agreement actually is; the chapters that it constitutes; the specific nature of the country in question in terms of its market; and what the opportunities will be. The more information we are able to give to all those stakeholders who will want to be part of the consultation, the better the collective decision we are likely to reach.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

On that note, bringing people with us by clearly outlining, explaining and engaging with everybody about what is proposed in the new free trade world is essential, and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s approach today. This is absolutely the right way to go. Will he confirm that these consultations will be straightforward so that my constituents can get involved in this new free trade world?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

We have had a look at what other countries have done, particularly in their online content, and how well it has gone down with those who have been involved in consultation processes. For that reason, I think it is very important that we have an online consultation that is fairly standardised so that the public know what is being asked of them from the information they are given.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Will a comprehensive free trade agreement with the United States be more likely or less likely as a result of the White Paper?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

It will be dependent on what both sides are willing to concede and on the level of ambition that both sides have. Following my discussions, not least with the President of the United States last week, I am very optimistic that such an agreement is well within the reach of both parties.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and congratulate him on the approach he is taking. When will he be able to set out the countries he is hoping to enter into negotiations with?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

I expect to be able to do that within days, rather than many weeks.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the US President last week. Did the President indicate the US’s desire to do a free trade deal with the United Kingdom? If so, how will this consultation help to directly affect and influence that process?

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox The Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade

In line with his patience, I take the opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for all the work he did as my Parliamentary Private Secretary. He was one of the best PPSs it has been my pleasure to come across in my 26 years in the House of Commons.

Yes, the United States did show it has an appetite for a free trade deal, and what I think will be of interest to it is our willingness to be extraordinarily transparent and to give Parliament the scrutiny powers that most other countries take for granted.