I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the statement today. He is right of course that, as we transition, we will need to have our own trade remedies in place. In his response, he may play fast and loose with our opposition to the Trade Bill, but he will know that our opposition was principled on the basis that we disagreed with many of the measures contained therein. We do, none the less, need to have measures in place.
We are just five weeks away from leaving the UK and possibly operating our own trade remedies, yet the Trade Bill, which establishes the Trade Remedies Authority, is still stuck in the other place due to the Government’s refusal to set out a transparent and democratic approach to trade agreements. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance’s suggestion is correct that it would have been possible to maintain the existing EU remedies until they came up for review? Indeed, if he accepted my party’s proposal for a customs union, he would ensure the continuity of trade remedies and that EU safeguard measures would not apply to British exports.
However, the Secretary of State has proceeded, as he wants, to fast-track the UK into the sort of less regulated economy he has always favoured. Rather than presuming to maintain trade remedies and maintain the status quo, so eager is he to begin cutting tariffs and opening up UK markets to cheaper imports that the Government have decided to presume that all such measures will be terminated, unless a case is made to maintain them. Such measures will undoubtedly increase the volume of imports on UK markets at less than fair market cost. After all, that is why the trade remedy measures were imposed in the first instance, following lengthy investigations by the EU. Indeed, at a time when the Department has faced repeated criticism about Brexit preparedness and priorities, when the Secretary of State has failed to bring forward the Trade Bill, when he has failed to discuss the 40 trade agreements that he promised would be ready “one second after midnight” after Brexit, and when the Government have failed to present a workable Brexit deal, why did he choose to ignore the MTRA?
The Government have failed to produce coherent evidence for these policy decisions; nor have they carried out an impact assessment. Indeed, many will be concerned that today’s findings are little more than policy-based evidence to support the Secretary of State’s free trade quest.
The Government’s handling of Brexit has been absolutely chaotic, no more so than in the extraordinary approach taken to delivering the UK’s trade policy. Any claims that the Government are acting in the interests of British business in ensuring continuity of trade on existing terms completely fall apart in the face of the evidence. The Secretary of State is chasing trade agreements with his gold tier friends across the Anglosphere and prioritising efforts to liberalise UK markets as part of his free trade experiment. In carrying out this consultation, the Government have refused to consider evidence from trade unions and civil society groups, instead only accepting arguments presented by a producer or group of producers who collectively meet what originally was an unspecified volume of production and/or who had an unspecified market share in those goods.
The Government’s intended agenda is clear. While they have explicitly stated that only evidence submitted from producers may be considered in the determination of the continuation of an existing measure, they have welcomed the views of downstream producers and consumer interest groups. That further compounds the concerns of our producers that the Government’s primary objective is cheaper prices, no matter how that might decimate manufacturing in the country. If people lose their jobs, cheaper prices will be of scant consolation.
There have also been recent reports that the Secretary of State wishes unilaterally to reduce all tariffs to zero in the event of a no-deal Brexit—a move that has been met with alarm and shock by our producing industries and which I detailed extensively in our debate last Thursday. Unfortunately the Secretary of State has refused to confirm that he has abandoned that folly. On zero tariffs, there has been no comprehensive formal consultation, no comprehensive impact assessment and no prolonged transition proposed. Such a significant decision would have far-reaching consequences for the UK economy and would demand full parliamentary scrutiny.
This Government have long stood against the interests of our producers and the jobs they maintain in our heartlands—from the Potteries to the valleys. The UK Government have repeatedly blocked efforts by the European Union to reform trade defence measures and, through the establishment of the Trade Remedies Authority, have taken a substantially different approach from the existing EU regime. The EU has since modernised those measures, as the UK no longer participates in those discussions. That resulted just last month in the EU introducing a range of safeguard measures to apply to steel imported into the EU, taking into account social and environmental factors in determining distortion in production. UK steel exports to the EU will likely be subject to the additional measures, which will undermine UK steel competitiveness in those markets. Indeed, the vast majority of UK steel exports are to the EU or to those countries with which the EU has a trade agreement. The Government’s trade policy priorities and failure properly to secure trade continuity arrangements jeopardise that.
The concerns of our producing industries are manifold. How will reviews of the maintained trade remedies be conducted? In determining the UK’s approach, will the Secretary of State accept the findings of any separate EU review? Will he accept evidence submitted by producers in respect of ongoing reviews or investigations by the EU as qualifying for automatic inclusion in any subsequent review or investigation to be carried out by the UK? What analysis has his Department carried out in respect of the impact of terminating trade remedy measures, and what assessment has it made of the unilateral reduction of trade tariffs to zero?