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This is the first time that I have spoken in the House since the death of Sir Jeremy Heywood. He was a dedicated public servant to whom I, among many, owe a great debt. I am very fortunate to have been able to call him a friend as well as a colleague. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would join in a tribute to Sir Jeremy.
The export strategy launched in the summer consists of the four ways in which Governments can make a difference: encourage, inform, connect and finance. It is only by making it easier for businesses that we will increase our exporting performance. Governments do not create wealth, businesses do.
Last week, I visited Crosby Premier Stampings in Cradley Heath. The company has been forging for nearly 100 years in the Black country, and currently uses traditional and high-tech methods. It is increasing its global sales, including to China. Will the Secretary of State explain how the export strategy will help other such small and medium-sized enterprises to develop their export business worldwide?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of business in the Black country, but all businesses are different, and we want to help both new and seasoned exporters of all sizes with the sort of support that is appropriate to the barriers and opportunities that they will face. SMEs in particular will benefit from increased peer-to-peer learning, improved access to specialist advice, and the thousands of export opportunities on the great.gov.uk website.
When I was a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, the Trade Minister had no control over trade policy—they just went on jollies around the world promoting trade. As we will now be stuck in the EU customs union for years to come, with no ability to make our own trade deals, will the Secretary of State change the name of his Department to the “Department for International Trade Promotion and Engagement with the Customs Union”?
The Government’s intention is that we will leave the European Union in March, we will exit the implementation period in December 2020, and we will have a fully independent trade policy. We have already begun—and finished—the first four consultations on independent trade agreements with other countries.
It is welcome that, under the draft EU withdrawal agreement, businesses that export to the EU can continue to discount tariffs, volumes, customs, fees and so on, but the documentation —this relates directly to future export strategy—says:
“the development of the United Kingdom’s independent trade policy will be the subject of the future relationship negotiations.”
Given what we have seen so far, that effectively means that the UK will not be able to strike differentiated deals with third countries with which the EU currently has a deal. Given that that contradicts precisely everything that the Secretary of State has been saying, why has he not resigned?
We have made it very clear that, in the areas where the EU already has an agreement, our first aim is continuity. We have also made it very clear that we have further ambition for bespoke agreements with those countries.
One key part of the Government’s strategy is to build an extensive business-to-business network of exporters. What progress has been made on that? In particular, what role are business organisations playing so that we can foster such a network?
One of the demands of the business community during the consultation was to give them better online communities so that they can speak to one another. We discovered that businesses did not necessarily want to talk to Government advisers, but wanted much more to speak to those who had faced similar business challenges and to ask how they had overcome them. That is under way, and we have recruited more staff to make that happen.