Covid-19: Import of Essential Medical Products

International Trade – in the House of Commons on 18th June 2020.

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Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

What steps she is taking to expedite the import of essential medical products during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

We continue to work tirelessly across Government to secure vital equipment and PPE from overseas partners, including from the US, Malaysia, China, Turkey and South Africa. We have sourced more than 18 billion items from across the globe to be shipped and delivered to the frontline to our NHS.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South

As the Minister will be aware, many imports such as medical products enter the UK as cargo in the hold of passenger flights. Given that the imposition of an illogical quarantine is having a negative impact on passenger confidence and flights coming into many of our regional airports, such as Luton airport in my constituency, will the Minister confirm whether he made any assessment of the impact of quarantine on the import of medical goods, and, in the light of that, does he agree with me that the quarantine should be lifted for less blunt measures, such as fast-track testing, to facilitate the import of medical goods and support the recovery of our aviation industry?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I have to say, Mr Speaker, that I was woken at 4.40 this morning by a passenger flight coming into Heathrow and then by another one at 4.45 am. It strikes me that although passenger traffic coming into the country is much reduced, it is still very much facilitated. I am not aware that any disruption that may be caused by the quarantine regulations is having any direct impact on our ability to import vital PPE into the country.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

At the last International Trade questions in May, my hon. Friend Grahame Morris asked about reducing global tariffs on soap, which average at 17% among World Trade Organisation members and range as high as 65% in some countries. The Minister of State said that it was a very good question and that the Government were working tirelessly to reduce or remove those sorts of barriers. I am sure that that has been the case, so will he tell us what progress he has made on the specific issue of soap tariffs over the past month?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Mr Speaker, you will know that on 20 March, which was the start of the UK lockdown, the EU Commission wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and HM Treasury alerting them to the existence of the potential mechanism by which tariffs in VAT could be waived on certain imports in the light of the covid-19 crisis. We have identified more than190 products that are in scope, ranging from PPE to soaps and disinfectants. When these products are imported by an organisation covered by the relief, the tariff will be zero.