EU Free Trade Agreements

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:40 am on 24th January 2019.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade) 10:40 am, 24th January 2019

My hon. Friend Mr Leslie asked a very simple and sensible question. The Minister’s long and rambling answer had a simple summary—clearly, it was no. The Secretary of State repeatedly told us that it was a simple matter to roll over deals on trade with approximately 70 countries, which constitutes 13% of our exports and 12% of our imports—it would be a cut-and-paste job. The Government would be ready on day one after Brexit, he told us. That was never true, was it? Those deals are entirely separate and independent from any deal that we may have with the EU.

If we leave with no deal, can the Minister confirm that these arrangements with third-party countries will fall away, as we have consistently warned? Will he confirm that, without new agreements in place, we could, in the absence of a deal with the EU, have no basis of trade with these countries after 29 March, and would fall back on World Trade Organisation rules? That is an argument for taking no deal off the table if ever there was one.

Will the Minister confirm that many of the terms of those agreements will need to be amended, and could be changed substantively as countries seek to improve on the terms that they have with the EU? Will he also confirm that agreements with countries that have economic partnership agreements are often regarded as being not fit for purpose and are alleged to have been signed under economic duress? The Minister will do well to listen to some of this, as this is the reality of what is going on in his Department. For example, North African countries want to sell their oranges and olive oil to us in far greater quantities than is allowed by the EPAs with the EU, which protect southern European producers.

In the Trade Bill debate in the Lords yesterday, the Minister conceded that the Department had no idea how many countries were ready to roll over their free trade agreements, how many would not, how many would have to adjust their constitutional arrangements, and how long that might take. Will the Minister for Trade Policy confirm that his colleague was right to say so?

The Secretary of State is busy socialising in Davos. Is that not a reminder of the incompetence and overconfidence that he has shown over the past two and a half years?