Topical Questions

International Trade – in the House of Commons on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

My Department is responsible for foreign and outward direct investment, establishing an independent trade policy, and export promotion. I am pleased to announce that this morning UK Export Finance has provided a loan of £27.9 million, under its direct lending facility, to support UK water and waste specialists Bluewater Bio to upgrade water treatment in Bahrain. This announcement shows the continuing demand for British expertise across the globe.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Constituents have written to me to say that we should sit over Christmas to get a meaningful deal. That is not going to happen, so let me wish you a very good one, Mr Speaker.

Given the pictures of the Prime Minister with the Crown Prince of Saudi after Khashoggi was chopped into pieces, and our Government lavishing praise on Bangladesh, a country whose status has recently been downgraded from democracy to autocracy by several human rights non-governmental organisations—not to mention Trump stating that we drop what he calls “unjustified” food and agricultural standards before signing a UK-US trade deal—has not our desperation for bilateral post-Brexit trade blinded us to all ethical and moral considerations before the ink has dried on a single deal?

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

Absolutely not. This country takes very seriously its international human rights and ethical responsibilities. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, rather than being an apologist, the United Kingdom is a great supporter and champion of those very values globally.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Mr Speaker, I am sure you will join me in condemning the mindless thug who threw a bottle at man of the match Dele Alli last night. I will indicate the 2:0 score so that you do not have to read my lips.

With UK exports to Israel up 30%, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that we increase trade with Israel as we move forward outside the European Union?

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

Israel is a very important trade partner for the United Kingdom, and our bilateral co-operation has increased. When I met Prime Minister Netanyahu a few weeks ago, we agreed to have a bilateral trade and investment conference in 2019, to increase those relations as far as possible.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Merry Christmas to you, Mr Speaker, and to all staff and all Members.

Chambers of commerce across the country contribute to export success through the brilliant advice they deliver all year round. Their direct local knowledge and expertise is much better than the signposting on any website that the Secretary of State might care to mention. In the spirit of the festive season, will he take this opportunity to guarantee the renewal of the contract with the British Chambers of Commerce for the delivery of export advice?

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

We constantly review the mechanisms by which we can give that advice. One of the things that came across clearly from our consultation on the export strategy was that businesses were looking for peer information rather than information from higher sources. That is why the Government have taken on extra staff for our online community for businesses, so that they can get real-time information from similar businesses.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow Conservative, Taunton Deane

People in Japan, Singapore and China are getting a taste of Somerset, because Sheppy’s cider from my constituency of Taunton Deane is increasingly being exported to those countries, which is really exciting. Can the Secretary of State give us some news about the work we are doing with China on potential trade and investment?

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

As part of the UK-China joint trade and investment review announced in January 2018, officials of both countries took part in the third series of technical discussions in Beijing in November. I am happy for my team to be promoting the benefits of Sheppy’s, but I want them to ensure that people also enjoy the wonderful taste of Thatchers, made in North Somerset.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming and Rural Communities)

According to the north-east chamber of commerce, businesses in the north-east are concerned about the future of international trade deals, and especially about rules of origin, after March next year. What can the Minister say to reassure our north-east businesses?

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

That the House of Commons should vote for the Government’s proposal, which will deal with those very issues, to ensure that we get continuity of trade.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I wish you, Mr Speaker, the staff of the House and all colleagues a very happy Christmas.

What early assessment has my right hon. Friend made of UK exports in this festive period?

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

British business continues to export strongly. For example, we are working with companies such as Hawkins & Brimble to maximise global retail opportunities. I am pleased to say that, thanks to help from the Department, the business will be lining the shelves of 300 stores in Canada and the United States with its range of male grooming products—a subject that I know is close to my hon. Friend’s heart—after securing £500,000 of contracts

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

How many freedom of information requests has the Secretary of State’s Department withheld on grounds of cost?

Photo of George Hollingbery George Hollingbery Minister of State (International Trade)

I am not aware of the exact statistic for cost, but I will happily admit to the House that our record on freedom of information requests in the past has not been good enough. However, a great deal of effort has been put into trying to ensure that we respond on time, and in the latest quarterly report from only yesterday we managed to reach 90%, which is what we were trying to achieve. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I will happily write to him with an answer.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

The UK Israel Tech Hub estimates that the tech partnerships that it has created have an economic impact on the UK of around £800 million. What can we do to continue to grow this mutually beneficial relationship?

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

The Tech Hub has been a huge success and a great example of the sort of model that we should be looking at, but we hope to be able to expand that relationship through the trade and investment conference that we will hold in 2019, which will be a celebration not only of our record of trade with Israel, but of the future of our trade with Israel.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

Sheep farmers in my constituency export 92% of their produce to Europe and beyond, but have absolutely no idea what is going to happen to their product after 29 March next year. What comfort can the Secretary of State give those sheep farmers to allow them to enjoy a happy Christmas?

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

Were there to be no deal, that would be a problem for the export of sheepmeat to Europe, so there is one clear answer available to the right hon. Gentleman, which is to support the Government’s proposal, which will enable his constituents to get the market assuredness that they want.

May I finish by wishing you, Mr Speaker, the Members of the House and particularly the staff of the House of Commons a very happy Christmas? Earlier the shadow Secretary of State mentioned the words about the wise men that we heard in Prayers this morning. We would do well to remember that if the wise men had not been carrying cross-border commodities of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we might not be getting the same messages we get today.