EU Trade Agreements: Replication

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:55 pm on 13th February 2019.

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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 12:55 pm, 13th February 2019

Yesterday, the Department’s risk matrix for the so-called roll-over agreements was published in the media. Of the 40 agreements that the Secretary of State famously promised would be ready one second after midnight on exit day, precisely four have been signed. Nine are off track, 19 are significantly off track, four cannot be completed by March 2019 and two are not even being negotiated.

Throughout the passage of the Trade Bill, Members repeatedly said that they were concerned that it would not be possible to replicate the terms of those agreements fully, and that many countries would seek to renegotiate terms in their favour. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to write to me to set out for each country what objections or demands to concluding a new roll-over have been presented, what concessions he has offered in respect of preferential access to UK markets in order to overcome such obstacles, and what assessment he has made of the impact on trade flows with the UK of a failure to conclude a new deal.

Many in the business community feel that the Secretary of State has diverted too many of his Department’s resources to entirely new free trade agreements, and so keen has he been to grandstand with the new that he has ignored the fundamental grinding work of securing what we already have. So I ask the Secretary of State to write to set out: the number of full-time personnel engaged on securing entirely new agreements; the number engaged on securing the roll-overs; and whether he believes his Department has been adequately resourced to handle so many trade negotiations at once.

Recently, the Secretary of State suggested the unilateral liberalisation of tariffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Will he explain to the House how he thinks negotiations would go with the remaining roll-over countries once he had given up our key negotiating leverage by reducing all tariffs to zero? Most Members might think that by doing so we were the ones being rolled over. Will he categorically rule out such a proposal? As we speak, goods are being loaded on to vessels that will be arriving in our markets from overseas after 29 March. How does he intend to support business with these transactions, given that nobody knows what tariffs and non-tariff barriers they will face when they arrive at their destination port? Increasingly, the Department for International Trade looks as though it has inadequate resources, focused on the wrong priorities, set by incompetent Ministers.