[Relevant documents: e-petition 554372, Establish free movement & trade agreements with Canada, Australia & New Zealand; First Report of the International Trade Committee, UK trade negotiations: Scrutiny of Agreement with Australia, HC 444; Second Report of the International Trade Committee, UK trade negotiations: Agreement with Australia, HC 117; Third Report of the International Trade Committee, UK trade negotiations: Agreement with New Zealand, HC 78; Fourth Report of the International Trade Committee, UK trade negotiations: Parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements, HC 815; and the First Special Report of the International Trade Committee, UK trade negotiations: Scrutiny of Agreement with Australia and Agreement with Australia: Government Response to the Committee’s First and Second Reports, HC 704.]
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Australia and New Zealand Trade deals.
The Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements are deals that will deliver for people, businesses and our economy. These are our first “from scratch” free trade agreements since we left the European Union, and they are deals of which this country can be proud. They demonstrate our ambition as an independent trading nation. They secure commitments that, in places, go above and beyond international best practice, and put us at the forefront of international trade policy.
I was here in June 2018 when we were finalising the call for input, and I was here again as the Minister in June 2020 when the negotiations were launched. It is great to be back at the Department to see the deal having been done, and I look forward to many similar deals as the Minister responsible for trade policy. I am delighted that the Leader of the House, who was recently in this role, was sitting next to me earlier and discussing the important part played by both herself and the present Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, my right hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan, over the past year. I should also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, formerly the Prime Minister, and the International Trade Secretary throughout a large part of this process.
We negotiated these ambitious deals with like-minded partners apace but with diligence, going further and faster than, for example, the European Union has been able to. The EU has yet to get a deal with Australia over the line, and only recently concluded talks with New Zealand, after four years. The deals represent a deepening of our relationship with close allies, fellow members of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership and like-minded democracies which share our beliefs in fairness, free enterprise, high standards and the rule of law.
Last year, our bilateral trading relationship with Australia was worth £14.4 billion, and exports to Australia supported more than 100,000 UK jobs in 2016. Exports to New Zealand supported more than 16,000 UK jobs in that year. These deals will strengthen those links, supporting increased volumes of trade, jobs and wages and bringing more choice for the UK consumer.
The Minister will be aware that the Australia deal in particular has created quite a lot of concern among Britain’s farmers. For example, Jilly Greed of the Suckler Beef Producers Association has said:
“This is an absolute betrayal…this is Christmas all over for Australia”.
The former chief economist of the National Farmers Union has said:
“Agriculture will bear a disproportionate cost. So desperate are the Government to do deals, they are preparing to slim down agriculture”.
How would the Minister respond to those allegations?
I am delighted to respond, because I have had extensive interaction with all the five nations’ NFUs during this process. We have delivered a deal that phases in the changes. The right hon. Gentleman might reference the fact that the trade deal we have with the European Union, which he supported, gives the EU comprehensive access from day one. This deal phases in access for Australia and New Zealand for a period of up to 15, and in some cases 20, years. I think that is worth consideration, as is the extensive interaction we have had with the NFU and with farmers. I have met MPs and their constituency farmers at some length and we will continue to interact with the NFU and the NFUs in all the nations to ensure that we are in full listening mode when it comes to Britain’s essential farming community.
“There will always be winners and losers when it comes to negotiating liberalised free trade agreements, and it is clear from the UK Government’s impact assessments that UK agriculture will be one of the losers if these deals are ratified”.
I disagree with that. I am just checking my records and I have had extensive interactions with representatives of NFU Cymru during the negotiation process. I met them on
It is not often that I get the opportunity to do so, and I am happy to say that when there is a good trade deal for Welsh farmers, I will be very happy to support it. Further to the Minister’s point about NFU Cymru, that union and the Farmers Union of Wales have both expressed concerns about the cumulative impact of the various trade deals. Has that featured in any assessments the Department has made, and if so, can he share with us what he makes of Welsh farmers’ concerns about this cumulative impact?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s support for trade deals and I look forward to him voting for one of them one day. In terms of the impact on Welsh farmers, I must point out some of the market access that we have recently gained—for example, Welsh lamb is now able to enter the US market for the first time in many decades due to the United States removing the small ruminants rule, and I was in Taiwan only last week are trying to negotiate access for Welsh lamb to the Taiwan market. When it comes to accumulation, he ought to think about the fact that there is tariff-free, quota-free access for the European Union for the UK at the moment. That has been the case from day one of the trade and co-operation agreement.
Surely one of the points we ought to be considering is the fact that about a third of the beef consumed in the UK is already imported. Some of it is imported from Brazil, where there are concerns about deforestation, and a big amount is imported from the EU, primarily from Ireland. We might not see fresh competition from Australian beef, but import substitution might be part of the equation.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a strong point. We are all in favour of competition, and of consumers being able to make their choice, but I would add that meat exports from Australia and New Zealand are much more likely to go to the far eastern markets. A big percentage of the exports from Australia and New Zealand currently go to those far eastern markets that, frankly, we would like to access by joining the CPTPP trade agreement. We want to have a piece of that action. He is right that it is more likely that exports from Australia and New Zealand will displace those from the EU, giving choice to consumers.
These are more than just deals with like-minded and long-standing partners; they are part of the UK’s new strategic approach.
Before we entered the common market, the Australia-New Zealand agricultural juggernaut centred on this country for its trade. As my right hon. Friend said, that trade is now going to 100 or more countries, so it has spread. Our farmers survived and did not complain before the common market, and that will continue.
My hon. Friend is an expert on the connections between the United Kingdom and the continent of Australasia. He makes a good point about restoring trading connections that existed prior to this country’s membership of the European Union. We should treat these two trade deals as an opportunity not a threat, which is a point he makes well.
These deals are a key part of our Indo-Pacific tilt. The Indo-Pacific region matters to the UK, as it is critical to our economy, our security and our global ambition to support open societies. Rapid economic growth in the Indo-Pacific region is shifting the world’s centre of economic gravity eastwards. In the first two decades of this century, the Indo-Pacific region accounted for 50% of global economic growth in real terms; by 2050 that is expected to be 56%. The Indo-Pacific is home to half the world’s people, and there are significant economic opportunities for the UK in trading with the region. These deals are just the start.
These two agreements are a significant step towards our accession to the CPTPP, membership of which will further open up 11 Pacific markets across four continents worth £9 trillion of GDP in 2021. Joining the CPTPP will put the UK at the heart of a dynamic group of growing nations. We negotiate deals that are tailored to the UK’s strengths, such as our world-class service industries that employ 82% of our workforce and account for 80% of our economy. These deals will unlock new markets, create jobs and drive the growth that the UK, like many other countries, needs right now. They will provide real outcomes for real businesses.
What does the Minister make of the International Trade Committee’s finding that more export opportunities and greater safeguards for the food industry could have been negotiated? How are the Government implementing the lessons learned for future deals?
I thank the International Trade Committee for its various reports on both deals, and I look forward to engaging with its Chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil, and indeed the whole Committee.
It can be said of any negotiated deal that something might have been better, as that is an inevitable consequence of negotiation. There is a bit of give and take. The safeguards for UK agriculture build in a very considerable length of time, of 15 or, in some cases, 20 years, for people to adjust. I contrast that with the European Union deal—Margaret Ferrier voted to have no deal with the European Union—which gave instant access.
Today, I will explain to the House how these important deals will help firms in every part of the country to flourish and grow. First, these agreements will remove 100% of tariffs on all goods, most of which will come into effect as soon as the agreements are in force—that is particularly with reference to UK exports. They will reduce red tape on British goods sold to Australian and New Zealand markets, making our exports even more competitive. Our automotive sector is among the many UK industries that will reap the rewards. For example, McLaren says that these tariff reductions
“will support and facilitate customer and network growth across Australia in the coming years.”
Nissan says that removing the 5% duty on car exports will help further exports to Australian customers of the Leaf, Qashqai and Juke cars it makes at its Sunderland plant. The removal of tariffs of up to 10% on car parts and on some vehicles sold to New Zealand is good news for other vehicle manufacturers across the UK.
A range of other industries will also benefit. For example, Nairn’s, the Edinburgh-based oatcake manufacturer, says savings from removing 5% tariffs under our New Zealand deal will help offset the increased costs that have affected businesses following covid-19 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Food and Drink Federation believes the removal of a range of tariffs will help to give UK businesses significant growth opportunities and make them more competitive in the New Zealand market.
UK investors will benefit from more access than ever before to opportunities in Australia and New Zealand, with guaranteed rights to invest across the economy. We are maximising opportunities for British companies to invest and grow their businesses in Australia. It will be easier for UK businesses to expand into both Australia and New Zealand, because we have increased the screening thresholds in both deals, meaning that fewer UK investments will be subject to review.
We also secured outcomes that encourage further inward investment into the nations and regions across the UK. In 2020, the UK was the second most popular destination for Australian foreign direct investment, and Australia is a big global investor. In 2019, there were more than 2,000 Australian-owned local business units in the UK, employing more than 71,000 people, and in 2020 we were the fourth largest destination for foreign direct investment from New Zealand.
Our Australia and New Zealand trade deals will also give our service industries a competitive edge on data and digital. Some 80% of our economy is in services. Scotland’s financial services industry and engineering services firms in the west midlands will benefit, and new opportunities will be provided for Welsh fintech firms in Cardiff. Our Australia deal allows professionals in areas such as engineering, accountancy and architecture to get visas to work. The law firm Herbert Smith Freehills says that these measures will make it easier for its staff to work across the UK and Australia. We also have access to the £10 billion Government procurement market in Australia, putting our firms on an equal footing with Australian firms. Just last month, I visited Informed Solutions, which is headquartered in Altrincham, and its management told me how much they were looking forward to the ratification of the upcoming free trade agreements to assist their business as well.
We have world-leading digital chapters, opportunities in cyber-security trade and so on. We also have a small and medium-sized enterprises chapter, which is very important for helping these companies navigate a free trade agreement. My Department is working hard at spelling out our many advantages, to businesses large and small. The national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, Mike Cherry, has said that our trade deal with Australia was great news for many of its members, as the small business chapter will ensure that the needs of smaller businesses are fully catered for in the years to come. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade often likens trade agreements to new motorways: they are at their most useful when they are well used by cars. That is why my team is meeting companies around the country to explain how they can make full use of our deals. Of course, businesses that want to trade with Australia and New Zealand and need more personalised help can turn to our network of trade advisers.
I have reflected on the many economic advantages offered by our free trade agreements, but these deals are not just about commerce. They are also about creating deeper international partnerships that will benefit both our citizens and the wider world, as well as our wider strategic objectives.
We are discussing making sure that these deals are about not just economic benefits, but the social partnership and ensuring that workers’ hard-won rights are not undermined by doing a trade deal that could lead to a race to the bottom. Will the Minister explain therefore why the deals do not contain any commitment to the International Labour Organisation core conventions?
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I know that he takes a strong, keen and constant interest in these issues. Let me say to him that the UK’s commitment to human rights, workers’ rights and various social justices are not always best pursued through trade agreements; we do pursue them bilaterally as well. I do not believe that there are any widespread concerns in relation to Australia and New Zealand, but I am happy for him to write to me if he has concerns about workers’ rights in those two countries. However, it is not obvious to me how a trade deal will necessarily be the best way to pursue those objectives in any case.
Together our nations can use trade to address contemporary challenges such as economic degradation, health pandemics and threats to global security. Both of these deals support that endeavour, including the provisions that uphold high standards and foster co-operation on shared challenges. With world-leading chapters on trade and gender equality, the deals demonstrate our commitment to break down barriers that exist for women in trade, whether as workers, business owners or entrepreneurs.
The UK-Australia agreement contains an innovation chapter, which is the first of its kind in any FTA between two partners in the world. This will ensure that our trading relationship remains at the forefront of emerging technologies. I might just add that the Confederation of British Industry said that our deal with New Zealand puts us at the fore of the green trade revolution and showcases to the world that trade and climate change can go hand in hand.
The Minister talked earlier about allowing the British public the chance to purchase in a competitive environment, but competition requires information. If there is no adequate chapter in the Australia agreement about environmental standards and the use of coal, for example, can he tell the House how it is possible for an educated consumer to buy in the way that he suggests?
The hon. Member raises a very good point. The UK-Australia deal is the first Australia trade deal that has a dedicated chapter on the environment. I recommend that he looks at the deal to see what it does for the environment, which is something we take very seriously indeed. We did it in the run-up to COP, so it is very topical as well.
I will not give way, as I am about to finish.
The country’s departure from the European Union opened up new possibilities for us to enhance our relationships with the rest of the world. Our deals with Australia and New Zealand show that we are seizing this opportunity. These deals can increase annual trade between the UK and Australia and the UK and New Zealand by £12.1 billion.
I look forward to hearing the contributions from the official Opposition, who I think abstained on Second Reading of the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, and also from the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, which I think opposed the Bill on Second Reading.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way to me, however he chooses to do so. We are very strongly in favour of free trade, but we also believe that free trade has to be fair. Let me take him back to his earlier comments about the strategic value of this. Does he understand that trade deals must have strategic value when it comes to protecting our ability to feed ourselves as a country? Does he understand why those of us who represent rural communities are deeply concerned about the imbalance that exists between farm standards on this side of the world and those in New Zealand and Australia on the other? We think that might undermine our ability to feed ourselves because it will put British farmers out of business.
I look forward to the hon. Member actually supporting one of these trade deals. I have already pointed out the safeguards that exist in both deals: the long transition period and the substantial tariff-rate quotas. I am talking about all of the protections and safeguards that are in those deals for British farmers—the non-regression clauses on animal welfare, for example, which will prevent Australia or any other country from seeking to gain a trade advantage if they were to weaken their animal welfare rules. I will be frank, though; I have seen no evidence that Australia will be looking to do that, but the deal does have protection for our farmers and our consumers.
Our free trade agreements reflect the needs of modern business and play to this country’s strengths. They will create deeper friendships between our citizens and they will begin a new era of free trade between our nations. In short, these are free trade agreements for the 21st century and I commend them to the House.
Today is a significant day, and I wish the Minister a happy birthday. What better present could the Secretary of State have given him than being absent and allowing him to open this debate in her place?
I welcome this general debate on the Australia and New Zealand trade deals. Yesterday, Remembrance Sunday, was a powerful reminder of our shared history and shared past sacrifice. The UK, Australia and New Zealand have deep enduring bonds, shared values and common goals. The Opposition support AUKUS; we recognise the key and central priorities that the UK, Australia and New Zealand share on the world stage, and we will continue to support the achievement of those goals.
I also put on record my desire to see a deepening of our trade links with our friends in Australia and New Zealand through trade agreements, and ever-closer relationships on all levels. I am especially pleased to say that both countries now have very fine Labour Governments in office.
Of course, we are having this debate after the deals have been signed, but they must now be honoured and worked with for the benefit of people here and of our friends in Australia and New Zealand. Specifically on negotiations, the high commissions of Australia and New Zealand have been remarkably helpful in briefing hon. Members across the House and briefing me as shadow Secretary of State, and I express my gratitude to them for all that they have done throughout the process.
To be clear, our debate today is not about the Opposition’s commitment to our deepening relationship with Australia and New Zealand. Rather, the question for this House is whether this Conservative Government secured the best possible deals on behalf of our constituents, and let us be frank: the best possible deals were not achieved.
The Australia deal is “one-sided”—not my words, but those of the current Prime Minister, who said so absolutely clearly over the summer. In fairness to him, we can see why he takes that view. The impact assessment for the Australia deal shows a £94 million hit to our farming, forestry and fishing sectors, and a £225 million hit to our semi-processed foods industry. On the New Zealand deal, the Government’s own impact assessment states that,
“part of the gains results from a reallocation of resources away from agriculture, forestry, and fishing”,
which will take a £48 million hit, while semi-processed foods will take a £97 million hit.
Ministers know the serious concerns about the agriculture elements of these two agreements and the precedents that they risk setting. We in the Opposition are very proud of our UK farmers and the standards of excellence they seek to uphold, and we believe that British produce can be a huge success in new markets, but we must also recognise the need for a level playing field for our farmers.
The Government claim that they are trying to mitigate the impact of the two deals, with tariff-free access being phased in. In the New Zealand deal there are tariff-rate quotas and product-specific safeguards for 15 years. Similarly, in the Australia deal the phasing-in period on beef and sheepmeat is of the same period, but the quotas that the Government have set for imports from Australia are far higher than the current levels.
We only need to see what other countries achieved in trade deals with Australia. When Japan negotiated a trade deal with Australia, it limited the tariff-free increase in the first year to 10% on the previous year. South Korea achieved something similar, limiting the increases to 7%. Yet this Government have negotiated a first-year tariff-free allowance with a 6,000% increase in the amount of beef the UK currently imports from Australia. On sheepmeat, it is a 67% increase. I have a simple question for the Government: why did they not achieve the same things that Japan and South Korea did, and why have our Ministers failed to ensure that the Australian agricultural corporations are held to the same high standards as our farmers?
It is good to see George Eustice in his place. As I am sure he will recall, when he was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he said that he faced “challenges” in getting the former Prime Minister—it is quite confusing these days; I mean the most recent former Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss—and the International Trade Secretary to enshrine animal welfare in deals. It is no wonder that the National Farmers Union said that it saw
“almost nothing in the deal that will prevent an increase in imports of food produced well below the production standards required of UK farmers.”
It is perhaps no surprise that Australia’s former negotiator at the World Trade Organisation said:
“I don’t think we have ever done as well as this.”
They are called trade “negotiations” for a reason, and it is a shame that the Government failed to put forward the strongest possible case for the UK. At the very least, I ask Ministers to go away and work out what more they can do now to support our food producers in the face of these challenges.
Some farmers are very concerned about the procurement aspects of the deals, which will allow producers from Australia and New Zealand to compete for UK procurement deals. UK producers, however, are unable to compete in Australia and New Zealand, likely because of the economies of scale challenges.
The hon. Gentleman raises a useful point. Our farmers are seeking a level playing field. We believe in our farmers and we want them to be able to compete on the same basis.
“both parties’ commitments to upholding our obligations under the Paris agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°.”—[Official Report,
However, the explicit commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5° was not in the deal, despite the fact that the Minister had said that only a matter of days before it was signed. What went wrong in those final days? Was it perhaps that Ministers simply gave way for the sake of getting a completed deal?
The current Secretary of State for International Trade, Kemi Badenoch, was sadly not here to open the debate. When she was standing to be Conservative party leader, she branded the net zero climate target “unilateral economic disarmament”. I think it is fair to say that there are worries about her commitment to delivering the progress needed on climate change, given that she has expressed that view publicly. Not only does that view misjudge the economic imperative of action to tackle climate change, but it fails to recognise the huge opportunities that the transition to net zero could provide. The question must also be asked: how broken can a party be when dabbling with climate change denial is a way to drum up support from its members?
On labour standards and workers’ rights, the Government did not push as hard as they might have done, as my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock said in an earlier intervention. On the Australia deal, the TUC said that the
“agreement does not contain commitments to ILO core conventions and an obligation for both parties to ratify and respect those agreements” and that it provides
“a much weaker commitment to just the ILO declaration.”
That is a mistake. We should not set a precedent for new trade agreements across the globe to sell short our workers here or elsewhere.
I accept my right hon. Friend’s point when it comes to dealing with some countries, but in the case of the deal with Australia, where there is a strong Labour Government committed to workers’ rights and trade union rights, and a strong trade union movement, are we not slightly making a mountain out of a molehill here?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend about the Australian Government. Having met a number of representatives of the Australian Government, I know that their commitment to workers’ rights is second to none. It is a shame that we did not see a similar commitment from this Conservative party, frankly. Of course, the issue with the Australia deal is the precedent that it sets: other countries with lower workers’ standards than Australia will look at the standards in the deal and think that they should be the starting point in negotiations. A further issue is around geographical indicators, on the cross-party International Trade Committee said:
“The Government has failed to secure any substantive concessions on the protection of UK Geographical Indications in Australia”.
We have to ensure backing for our fantastic national producers and not let them be undermined.
Is it not also the case that this trade deal does not, for example, have an investor-state dispute settlement clause, because with comparable legal systems and comparable levels of development it is not necessary? Surely we do not need one template for all sorts of trade deals with all sorts of countries in very different circumstances.
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that we do not need a single template, but we could do with a core trade policy and a core set of objectives from the Government.
I turn to the issue of scrutiny, because for those in this House who follow trade matters closely, it will not have gone without being noticed that this debate brings a distinct change of focus from Ministers at the Department for International Trade. Ministers—I would say they are new Ministers, but I think the Minister for Trade Policy, Greg Hands, is competing with Frank Sinatra in the comeback stakes—will I am sure be aware of stinging rebukes from the cross-party International Trade Committee, which has regularly and strongly raised the need for better scrutiny structures around trade deals. It called in its recent report for
“the Government to accept specific recommendations to enable better scrutiny of any FTAs”.
That is very much a cross-party matter—Anthony Mangnall has regularly made the case to me as the shadow Secretary of State as well as to the various Secretaries of State and I hope that those criticisms and recommendations are having an impact. I hope that those recommendations, which come from right across the House, are being heard. Perhaps that is why we have at least ended up with today’s debate, although the irony is not lost on us that parliamentary time has now been allocated to agreements that were long ago signed and agreed.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. On this point about scrutiny, he is a Welsh MP like me, so does he agree that these deals have a huge impact on, for example, the Welsh farming industry? Does he share my regret that the Government have not published an impact assessment for the devolved nations, and that they have ridden roughshod over any conventions on consulting properly with the devolved nations, whose Governments are such important stakeholders in this process?
I entirely share my hon. Friend’s concern about the lack of specific impact assessments. I also share his disappointment that there is not a specific set of structures in place where the devolved Administrations can make their voices heard at a far earlier stage in the process. That would be extremely helpful.
I am sorry, but that is just not a complete representation of what actually goes on. The ministerial forum for trade, which I set up—I have not yet chaired a meeting of it since returning to the Department, but it will be meeting soon—allows all three devolved nations to meet me to discuss forthcoming trade deals, forthcoming negotiations and trade policy overall. That is exactly what it is in place for.
First, I am pleased to hear that from the Minister, because certainly the feedback I have had from the devolved Administrations has not been positive with regard to the political interaction they have had prior to trade deals being signed. Also, there is the issue of the extent to which the needs of the devolved Administrations were taken into account. He has said that to me today from the Dispatch Box, so I hope that he is as good as his word with the ongoing trade deal negotiations and that the devolved Administrations will not only have the opportunity to have their say, but will be listened to.
I am looking forward to a meeting with Vaughan Gething later this week, if I am not mistaken—it might be next week, but it is in the coming days. It is important to recognise that trade policy is a reserved matter, but it does have a significant impact on areas of devolved competence, such as agriculture. That is why it is right that the UK Government carry out the negotiation, but that they involve and inform the devolved Administrations. That is exactly how it works with the ministerial forum for trade and other interactions.
I entirely agree that it is the UK Government who are carrying out the negotiations, but they should not just carry out the negotiations and inform the devolved Administrations about them but take their views into account before the negotiations begin. I hope that the Minister will be as good as his word. I am sure we will see that in the months to come.
This is a very interesting and useful conversation. Is it not right that other countries do this very differently? Belgium includes its regions in the negotiating teams, which are therefore in the room. The USA includes representatives of trade unions and businesses in the negotiating teams, who are therefore in the room. Australia, in this instance, excludes any matters that the states are responsible for, so they are not touched on in this trade deal. Is it not the case that this Government are the weakest of all the partners?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a better way to do that, as he eloquently sets out.
On the theme of scrutiny, Lord Grimstone said in May 2020 that the Government do not envisage
Clearly, that has not happened, and that is why this debate is in such odd circumstances. There are crucial elements to both these deals that deserve wider debate and scrutiny.
I want to highlight the real challenge in the Committee for the Bill that the Minister referred to, which was not a Bill about giving effect to a whole range but a specific, narrow Bill on public procurement provisions. The nature of the Bill meant that, under the entirely appropriate rules of this House, finding areas of debate in Committee was very difficult. It was prohibitively narrow: climate change, workers’ rights, consultation with devolved Administrations and animal welfare were not within the scope of the Bill. The agreements were signed before they came before Parliament, so the scope for meaningful debate was fatally curtailed. There has been no scrutiny worthy of the name.
The International Trade Committee rightly criticised the process on the Australia deal and the Government’s premature triggering of the 21-day process under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 without the full Select Committee consideration being available to Members. When pressed, the Government refused to extend the process. All the while, in a number of urgent questions, the then Secretary of State, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, swerved I think eight invitations—I will be corrected if I am wrong—to attend the International Trade Committee. I wonder whether the Government’s reticence to open themselves up to scrutiny is because, ultimately, they know they are falling short.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an important point about scrutiny, and it is not one I can escape now that I have some level of collective responsibility as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I hasten to add. Does he agree that there is a wider conversation to be had about the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, which was introduced under a Labour Government, and about whether a more effective system could be put in place? It seems that we are out of kilter with our Commonwealth friends.
The hon. Gentleman makes the perfectly reasonable point that we need to look at the whole scrutiny process to make it effective and to update so that it is fit for the current situation.
I have indicated that the current Prime Minister thinks the Australia deal is one-sided. Frankly, that is just one of many criticisms that Conservative Ministers and MPs have levelled at their own Department for International Trade and their own Ministers. The former Exports Minister, Mike Freer, rightly said that the trade access programme is underfunded. He said of it:
“We support too few shows, we don’t send enough business, our pavilions are often decent but overshadowed by bigger and better ones from our competitors.”
That could be due to the fact that the budget for our trade show access programme began to fall sharply.
I looked carefully at when in the past 12 years the trade show access programme started to be cut in the last 12 years—I have the figures here for every year. It seems to have happened in the middle of the last decade when a new Chief Secretary to the Treasury was appointed, so I wondered who that was. The Minister has been in post for only a short period on this occasion, but we have had a number of robust exchanges previously, which I have always enjoyed, and this is not a subject that he has ever sought to debate me on before. When I checked who that confident, new, shining Chief Secretary to the Treasury was who started the cuts to the tradeshow access programme, however, I found that it was none other than the current Minister for Trade Policy.
Ministers for Trade Policy have a chequered history under recent Conservative Governments. We have just seen the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, in her new role. She was criticised for her attentiveness and availability as Trade Minister, not by me or any Opposition Member, but by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who said:
“There have been a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful, and other ministers have picked up the pieces”.
Meanwhile, if we read the remarkable coverage of the tenure of the most recent former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk, at the Department for International Trade, it is amazing that there was even limited progress, given that the main aim appears to have been securing photographs for Instagram. I will say this for her time as International Trade Secretary, however: although her requests when travelling in Australia were for sauvignon blanc and fancy coffee, they are nothing compared with the Australian delicacies that I understand Matt Hancock has sampled when out there.
All hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that a trade deal offers our friends in Australia a fantastic array of British exports, but I fear that they will want to reconsider their options when the first expensive import that arrives is a tariff-free version of the right hon. Member for West Suffolk. I will leave that subject there, aside from the passionate plea that I always make when important elections are under way, such as the bushtucker trial: it is important for people to continue to make their voices heard, and I am sure that people across the country, especially in West Suffolk, will be keen to continue exercising their vote on a daily basis.
The disorder and chaos that we have seen across Government in recent months, and specifically at the Department for International Trade, speak of a Government who lack focus and direction. I speak to huge numbers of businesses every week and they continually express how damaging the instability is; it has real consequences in damaging our exporting opportunities. The utter chaos of financial instability, the tanking of the pound and the damage to our country’s standing are extraordinarily serious.
That instability and lack of clarity are why we have ended up in a situation where promises have been broken and vital progress has slipped. The trade deal with the USA has not been delivered. The trade deal with India done by Diwali has not been delivered. The promise that 80% of UK trade would be under FTAs by the end of 2022 has not been delivered and will not be delivered. It does not have to be that way.
I think we may have been here before, so I apologise for reiterating what I have said previously. The right hon. Gentleman keeps saying that we are not delivering and that we are taking too long, but also that deals are being signed too quickly. The Labour party seems to be at odds with itself. Whether it is our desire to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership; our desire to do trade deals with Japan, which we have achieved; the Australia and New Zealand trade deal; or the UK-US state trade deal, those deals are being signed and we are joining new groups. It is not fair or accurate to say that we are not delivering the trade deals that we set out to achieve.
What the hon. Gentleman omits is that I am judging the Government not against a standard I am putting forward that is impossible to reach but against their own 2019 manifesto. There is no inconsistency between being in favour of free trade deals and hoping that the Government will agree decent ones at the negotiating table.
As I am finishing in a moment, I will not take another intervention.
The Government’s central trade strategy is a litany of broken promises. We are debating these two trade deals in strange circumstances long after they were signed, sealed and delivered. Access to British markets is not, however, a bauble to be traded away easily, as the Government repeatedly do. The Government must stop selling the UK short, and come forward with a core trade strategy that will allow our world-leading businesses to thrive and deliver for communities across the country. Quite simply, it is time for strong government with a sense of purpose, which the Conservative party is in no position to provide.
The current Secretary of State for International Trade had no role in the discussions on these deals, although my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy did and will recall some of them. The Secretary of State was not in the Cabinet at the time, nor in any of the Cabinet Committees, while the Minister has defended the position that was taken at the time.
My position is obviously slightly different: I was in the Cabinet in 2021 and I was on the Cabinet Sub-Committee that argued over the Australian trade deal—for, yes, there were deep arguments and differences about how we should approach it—but since I now enjoy the freedom of the Back Benches, I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed. I hope my right hon. Friend will understand my reason for doing this, which is that unless we recognise the failures the Department for International Trade made during the Australia negotiations, we will not be able to learn the lessons for future negotiations. There are critical negotiations under way right now, notably on the CPTPP and on Canada, and it is essential that the Department does not repeat the mistakes it made.
The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK, which was not for lack of trying on my part. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, there were things that we achieved, such as a special agricultural safeguard for years 10 to 15, staged liberalisation across the first decade and the protection of British sovereignty in sanitary and phytosanitary issues. It is no surprise that many of these areas were negotiated either exclusively or predominantly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on behalf of the UK team, but it has to be said that, overall, the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return.
What would a good agreement have looked like? It would have been one having enduring TRQs on beef in particular, but probably also for sheep. The volumes would probably have started at about 10,000 tonnes per annum, raising after a decade to about 60,000 tonnes or perhaps 80,000 tonnes, which could have been manageable. We did not need to give Australia or New Zealand full liberalisation in beef and sheep—it was not in our economic interest to do so, and neither Australia nor New Zealand had anything to offer in return for such a grand concession. Let us not forget that, while we are about to open our market to unbridled access for Australian beef, Australia remains one of the few countries left in the world that maintains an absolute export ban for British beef. Not a single kilo of British beef can be sold in Australia since it maintains a protectionist ban, using the BSE—bovine spongiform encephalopathy—episode as a sham reason for doing so.
The impact of full liberalisation is hard to predict; the reality is that, provided we maintain a ban on hormones in beef, volumes might remain quite low, but here is the big challenge. The CPTPP negotiation that is under way could mean accession and agreement to new dispute resolution processes that will undermine the UK’s sovereignty in SPS issues and actually undermine our approach when it comes to banning hormones in beef. If some foreign court or foreign mediation process were to say as a matter of treaty that the UK had to accept beef from Australia treated with hormones, that could change the nature of this agreement considerably; volumes could rise significantly, perhaps to more than 200,000 tonnes over time, and that would have a very severe impact on British beef.
The CPTPP has provisions for its own dispute resolution and they are modelled on what happens in the WTO, but here is the thing: if we do not get the negotiation right with CPTPP it might undermine our ability to practise our own SPS regime and have independence in this area.
If we were to have a significant increase in Australian beef, because we had been forced by a court or a dispute resolution service to allow hormones in beef—and there have been close challenges in the past, through the WTO—that would be intolerable for any British Government. The Government of the day would probably have to trigger article 32.8 of the agreement and give six months’ notice to terminate the FTA. In my view the best clause in our treaty with Australia is that final clause, because it gives any UK Government present or future an unbridled right to terminate and renegotiate the FTA at any time with just six months’ notice. Many Members will remember that we had hours of fun in the last Parliament discussing triggering article 50 of the treaty on European Union; I suspect we would prefer not to have to go back to that, but article 32.8 is the ultimate and final sanction, which, as things have turned out, is a critical safeguard given the size of the concessions made to Australia in the trade deal.
What lessons should we learn? First, and most important, we should not set arbitrary timescales for concluding negotiations. The UK went into this negotiation holding the strongest hand—holding all the best cards—but at some point in early summer 2021 the then Trade Secretary my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss took a decision to set an arbitrary target to conclude heads of terms by the time of the G7 summit, and from that moment the UK was repeatedly on the back foot. In fact, at one point the then Trade Secretary asked her Australian opposite number what he would need in order to be able to conclude an agreement by the time of the G7. Of course, the Australian negotiator kindly set out the Australian terms, which eventually shaped the deal.
We must never repeat that mistake. The Minister and Secretary of State will currently be getting submissions from officials saying that we need to join the CPTPP in a hurry and that if we do not do so now we will not join the club early enough and will not be shaping the rules—they will be saying, “We might miss the boat, this is a crucial part of the Pacific tilt” and so on. But the best thing the Minister can do is go back and tell Crawford Falconer, “I don’t care if it takes a decade to do this agreement; we will get the right agreement—we will never again set the clock against ourselves and shatter our own negotiating position.”
The second lesson is that we must look at making a machinery of government change. I believe all responsibility for agrifood negotiations, including relating to tariff rate quotas, should be transferred from the Department for International Trade to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because DEFRA has superior technical knowledge in this area. It is important to remember that DEFRA never left the world stage; the DIT is a new creation with people often lacking experience but doing their best to pick things up, whereas even during the EU era DEFRA maintained a presence in trade negotiations, advising and informing the EU’s position and dealing with matters such as market access around the globe. DEFRA is worldly and has deep technical knowledge in this area and it should, therefore, take full responsibility for negotiating TRQs in agrifood.
The third change we must look at making is strengthening the role of Parliament in scrutinising and perhaps even agreeing the negotiating mandate. Countries such as Japan and the United States and the EU all use their parliamentary processes to their advantage. When we were negotiating with Japan and seeking to increase access for British cheese, I remember Japan said, “We would love to, but unfortunately we can’t because there is a parliamentary motion that we cannot breach. Therefore, we cannot retreat on this position.” The UK does not have that. We could use Parliament and a mandate agreed by Parliament to say to trading partners, “We’re not able to agree to what you’re asking for.” However, if they perceive that Crawford Falconer calls the shots and that he will always go through some back channel to get something agreed, we will not be in a strong position and our negotiating position will be undermined.
That brings me to my final point. I have always been a huge fan of the British civil service; I was never a Minister or politician to level criticism at them. I enjoyed nine years of incredibly good relations with civil servants at all levels, but I do want to raise a comment about personnel within the Department for International Trade. Crawford Falconer, currently the interim permanent secretary, is not fit for that position, in my experience. His approach was always to internalise Australian demands, often when they were against UK interests, and his advice was invariably to retreat and make fresh concessions. All the while, he resented people who had a greater understanding of technical issues than he did. It was perhaps something of a surprise when he arrived from New Zealand to find that there were probably several hundred civil servants in the UK civil service who understood trade better than he did, and he has not been good, over the years, at listening to them. He has now done that job for several years, and it would be a good opportunity for him to move on and for us to get a different type of negotiator in place—somebody who understands British interests better than he has been able to.
May I extend my birthday wishes to the Minister, too? I will not ask him how many candles are on his cake, but I am afraid that I cannot hold a candle for the defence he gave for these deals. It seems that I am not alone. In addition to George Eustice, there seem to be many more Tory critics; I will refer to a few of them in my remarks.
First, a general debate is no replacement for genuine parliamentary scrutiny. The Government have failed to provide that, even though it was promised. The deals, lumped together in the debate, are one-sided and a betrayal of farmers. They threaten food security and animal welfare, reduce consumer confidence, find climate change expendable and do nothing to mitigate the enormous losses of Brexit. Quite possibly, they are also breaking international law. Yet again, no reason is provided to support this further exercise in UK self-harm. They simply double underscore the increasing risks of the UK and the need for Scotland to become a normal, independent country and to rejoin the world’s most successful trading bloc, the EU.
Let me cover those points in order and in more detail. When I say that they are one-sided deals, I am, as we have heard, quoting the current Prime Minister. He was right. Of course, given that his party is in power, he was also being generous. These are awful deals. They are unmitigated disasters. That is why the Government are refusing to allow Parliament to vote on them. These deals are the legacy of the previous Prime Minister and make as much sense as the infamous mini-Budget.
The hon. Member is making a point about whether we can vote on the deals. The reality is that having a vote on them would not change anything, as he full well knows. We are leading people down a path without clarifying how, under the CRaG mechanism, the votes would make no changes to the trade deals that we are debating.
I admire the hon. Member’s dexterity. Having been in the House when he has quite rightly criticised the lack of scrutiny offered by the Government, I understand that he is now in the employ of the Government and must sing a different tune. The fact of the matter is that this is not good enough.
No, I am going to make some progress.
Given that his party was in power, the Prime Minister was, as I have said, being generous. These are awful deals. They are unmitigated disasters and that is why Parliament is not getting the chance to scrutinise them properly. They will do similar harm as the mini-Budget to the sectors concerned. The current Prime Minister also said that they
“shouldn’t be rushing to sign trade deals as quickly as possible”.
We agree, but wait a minute: he is the Prime Minister! Why, then, is he allowing this to proceed? If he does not agree with it, is not letting it go through just another part of a grubby deal for power? It makes no sense otherwise.
The Government are keen enough to tear up deals such as the Northern Ireland protocol, yet they will not get around the negotiating table on these deals, even though they can do so. These deals are bad, very bad, for our farmers and food producers. The National Farmers Union president, Minette Batters, says of the Australia deal that
“this is a one-sided deal. When it comes to agriculture, the Australians have achieved all they asked for and British farmers are left wondering what has been secured for them.”
And well might they wonder.
She went on to say of the New Zealand deal:
“The government is now asking British farmers to go toe-to-toe with some of the most export orientated farmers in the world, without the serious, long-term and properly funded investment in UK agriculture that can enable us to do so. This is the sort of strategic investment in farming and exports that Australian and New Zealand governments have made in recent decades.”
This has a knock-on effect on our food security. These deals are bad policy at the worst possible time. The laissez-faire, couldn’t care, get it over the line Brexiteer ideology has de-prioritised domestic food production in support of importing cheaper—for now—lower standard food. That is dangerous and should be put on hold immediately. It sets a thumpingly bad precedent. The rest of the world is watching and wants the same one-sided access that has been squandered here.
I will, on food security. That is exactly why the Government passed, in the Agriculture Act 2020, the need to report back on food security—so that we could review the situation and ensure that this country has a full and complete level of food security. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that, actually, that shows that we are taking it seriously, rather than ignoring it?
It will come as no surprise that I do not agree with the Government Member. These are damaging deals. They are one-sided and other people will want access.
Talks are ongoing with India, Brazil, Mexico, the Gulf states, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership countries and Canada. Will they now accept less than has been offered here? This might just be the damaging start of the process. No wonder the National Audit Office report says that the UK Department for International Trade is “taking risks” in its haste to sign new deals.
This is bad for consumers. Research by Which? found that 72% of people across the nations of the UK do not want food that does not meet current standards coming in through trade deals. And boy, do standards differ! In Australia, animal welfare standards are well below what is expected of our producers, particularly on pigs, eggs, sheep and beef, with cramped sow stalls, battery cages, the painful mulesing of sheep, huge herds of cattle in zero-grazing feedlots, and permissible live animal transport times that are twice the length of ours. Australian poultry farmers use 16 times—I repeat, 16 times—more antibiotics per animal than our farmers. The UK Government’s own advisers have voiced concern about the impact on UK farmers of the overuse of pesticides in Australia, including 144 highly hazardous pesticides.
But do we not also import chicken from countries with very questionable standards, such as Brazil, from which we also import beef, and Thailand? Are there not, even within the EU framework, considerable variations in animal welfare standards?
If there are variations in standards, they are certainly nothing like this. The line that the right hon. Gentleman intervened on was 144 highly hazardous pesticides.
Perhaps none of this should come as a surprise, given that the former Prime Minister who brokered the deal employed the former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, as a trade adviser. Incidentally, I do not think that the Australians will return the favour. Abbott is a notorious climate sceptic. That is why the deal gets worse and worse, leaving aside all the obvious food miles involved in all the imports. He is on record as saying, when he was Australian Prime Minister, that his main role in trade talks was to ensure that his negotiators
“weren’t sidetracked by peripheral issues such as…environmental standards”.
It looks like he succeeded on both sides of the world—that is little surprise with this fracking Government, whose Prime Minister had to be shamed into attending COP27. Australian oil and gas production is set to increase substantially until at least 2030, with dozens of new coalmines, yet there is nothing on that on the UK Government’s agenda. It is no wonder that even Tory Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee, condemned the Australia deal as “totally offensive”.
The Scottish Government called on the UK Government to prioritise the Paris agreement commitments, but the UK Government signed this deal with nowt. Indeed, we know that they actively scrubbed all the concerns in haste to get the deal signed, as departmental emails prove. There are no legally binding, enforceable climate change conditions in either deal. As I said, it is no wonder that they do not want the deals to be scrutinised. They may, however, have broken international law through the lack of scrutiny. They will probably just shrug their shoulders, of course, like their Prime Minister and former Prime Minister, because they are getting pretty good at lawbreaking on that side of the House. A formal complaint will, however, be heard by the Aarhus convention compliance committee.
These tragicomic deals are put into even sharper focus for this Brexit and bust Britain by the deal that the EU has just signed with New Zealand. Yes, you guessed it, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is on better terms than the UK deal, with actual farming safeguards. In the first year of the agreements, the UK will allow 12,000 tonnes of New Zealand beef into the UK, whereas the 27 EU countries will allow only 3,333 tonnes between all of them. By year 15, the UK will allow a whopping 60,000 tonnes, while the EU will have capped imports at 10,000 tonnes and will still apply a 7.5% tariff. The EU has secured a better deal on beef, sheep, cheese, butter and more.
Let us look at what we have lost through Brexit. In the EU, about half of our trade used to be paperwork-free, but 100% of trade is now bundled up in red tape. For every £490 of damage from the loss of EU trade, the deals combined will realise £3 at best. Scotland’s food industries are being painfully punished for something that Scotland voted against. Fruit and vegetable exports to the EU are down by more than half, and dairy and eggs are down by a quarter. Brexit is a disastrous economic hit that Scotland should not be forced to endure. As for the deals we are debating and those planned, we call on the Department for International Trade to publish an impact assessment of the free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, and the proposed free trade deals with the CPTPP, India and Canada, with a particular focus on food and farming, showing the anticipated effects in all four nations.
The UK Government must stop gambling with Scottish farming, food production, manufacturing and trade. They have failed to protect our brands. They have gambled with food standards, workers’ rights and protections. They are reckless over the environment and climate change, and, as has been so obvious, they have turbocharged inflation and threatened people’s wellbeing, as well as diminished their household budgets. And yet, they have the brass neck—the utter cheek—to say that we should have supported this place, so often in a race to the bottom, especially in this international lunacy and trading failure.
People in Scotland can see that the risk is not in being a normal, independent country, but in remaining shackled to Westminster. They see that these one-sided deals do nothing for our farmers, damage our food security, lower standards, fail on animal welfare and climate change, possibly break international law and do nothing to mitigate the eye-watering costs of Brexit. The deals cannot be supported and it is clearer than ever that Scotland must return to the EU as an equal and normal independent country to escape Westminster’s basket-case ideologies.
That was a really disappointing speech from Drew Hendry. I was interested to hear the speech of my right hon. Friend George Eustice, who is obviously deeply into the debate—much more so than I am. I thank the Minister for his quick and enthusiastic cruise through it, which was a present for us on his birthday.
The UK’s trade with New Zealand is particularly long-standing. It took off with the first refrigerated shipment of meat in a boat that set sail in 1882, loaded with sheep. It was called the Dunedin, as I hope the Scots with us will have noticed. Sadly, it disappeared at sea with all crew in 1890.
I may not have the same knowledge as some other speakers, but I have a personal interest, as my accent shows. I hold a passport from both countries—New Zealand and this country—and many people think from my accent that I am Australian, so I guess I can add that in as well.
New Zealand and Australia were and are huge agricultural producers. There used to be a huge market in the UK for lamb and milk products, but now the spread is very much broader. I have just been to New Zealand, where many farmers are looking to this country to help to fill their portfolio for the EU, so I have no fear. Before the UK entered the Common Market, as it then was, Australia and New Zealand provided the UK with huge trade in lamb and milk products—Anchor is one of my favourite butters. In return, the UK sold manufactured products to New Zealand and Australia. British manufacturing, particularly of cars and household goods, dominated. That was the norm, and I see the opportunities in these deals as a return to the norm.
The kith and kin links and the support that Australia and New Zealand gave to the UK in the two world wars may help us to understand why both Commonwealth nations are sympathetic to us. When the UK went into the Common Market, the loss or diminution of the UK market was sorely felt. They did not like it—they were aggrieved—but when there was a reduction in both countries’ trade, they did not just sit on their hands; they went out and got other deals. More than 100 nations are now on their trading list and they are key members of the TPP, which has been mentioned several times today. That could be important to us, because our links could help us to get in on the partnership.
The new agreement will give UK manufacturing, tech and services companies access to the antipodean markets and, importantly, open access for UK professionals to live and work in Australia and New Zealand. Equally, it will open the door to Australasian professionals, including medical and dental professionals and accountants—and dare I suggest rugby coaches for Wales and Scotland? I thought I might get a bite there.
My Mole Valley farmers were deeply concerned that opening the doors to tariff-free imports would swamp the UK agricultural sector, particularly for dairy products and to some degree for beef and sheepmeat. Fortunately, as the Minister has pointed out, the agreement includes staggered phasing of tariff reductions, which is particularly welcome. Having just been to New Zealand, I can say that it is quite apparent that it will want support from our products to fill its quotas for the EU.
The UK needs to push its goods in both countries. For example, New Zealand and Australia’s roads are currently dominated by Asian-manufactured vehicles. I have asked people there why they are not buying British. The answer is “We will when the prices come down and the tariffs come down.” With this tariff reduction, we have a chance to take our share and more, but we have to use it. We have to get out there, and we have to push our products in those two countries. I am willing to offer my services as a translator—because their English is difficult—or even as a trade envoy. The opportunity is there, but we have to go out and get it.
Trade is one of the issues that, from time to time, erupt in British politics. Indeed, in some areas it has dominated political discussion, and it has twice split—torn apart—the Conservative party. After all, that is why we had free trade halls in many of the great cities of the industrial north and midlands.
There is a strong case to be made for open trade, and I sometimes wish the Government would make it more strongly, both in general and in detail, and particularly in relation to the opportunities it presents. We have heard a great deal about some of the possible problems, and I shall come on to those shortly, but there are also opportunities for our industries and services, which were mentioned a moment ago by Sir Paul Beresford.
We have to recognise, and we should be making the argument, that trade has been a major engine of human progress for millennia, and has driven prosperity, innovation and a flow of ideas. It has enabled the development of civilisation. When people advance arguments against trade, one almost wonders whether they consider that the industrial revolution was desirable and right and a great advance in human progress, but although there were considerable and well-documented costs to that development, fundamentally humanity benefited and moved forward. We need to be advancing those arguments, not the arguments of people who want to return to some idyllic pastoral age, which was actually never much of an idyll at all, because we have certainly made great progress as a result; and if we are going to do that, we have to say, “Who better to do such deals with than Australia and New Zealand?”
These are countries with which we share huge affinities, connected with families and relatives, and with which we have shared service and security and intelligence relationships over several centuries. They are countries with similar legal systems and similar values that work together in the wider world. There may be some difficulties, and I am pleased about—well, not pleased; in fact I am slightly dismayed, but I suppose I could also take some partisan pleasure in them—the revelations of the utter inadequacies of at least one of the Ministers involved in the trade deals, who made the fundamental error in negotiations—any negotiations—of believing that getting a deal is more important than the contents of the deal. That is a recipe for failure in business, and it is a recipe for failure in government as well. I therefore hope that Ministers may now learn the lessons from that period. It was not even the deal, but the photo opportunity it presented, that seems to have been most important, and we definitely need to move beyond that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this may also reflect the fact that for many years the UK has not needed negotiating teams to go into the negotiating rooms on behalf of the UK to make trade deals, and that that naivety may in part—along with Ministers’ overenthusiasm—have resulted in poor terms in this trade deal?
I take the hon. Lady’s point about the shortfall in technical skills. The hon. Member for Mole Valley identified certain failings in at least one individual. I am not qualified to comment on that, but I am perfectly prepared to believe it. There was certainly a technical deficit—because trade deals have been undertaken by the European Commission on behalf of all member states—but that was exaggerated, and indeed made far worse, by the obsessive and indeed utterly irresponsible attitude of the Trade Secretary at the time. Unfortunately, the Conservative party then saw fit to put that same individual in as Prime Minister, where those same negative qualities completely imploded the Government and demonstrated why the description of her as a “human hand grenade” was so apt.
There was a discussion earlier about several of the common factors between our countries, and they include labour standards. The developments in Australia are enormously encouraging, because some of the reductions in labour standards that were brought in by the previous conservative Government there are now being rolled back and trade unionism is being encouraged. I am sorry that the Minister for Trade Policy has just left the Chamber. When he was describing the talks with the United States, I thought he missed an opportunity to say that the UK and US trade union movements were involved in those talks in Baltimore and Scotland. I know that was at the insistence of President Biden and the American trade team, but I hope that this Government will have learned the positive advantages of having representatives of the trade union movement involved in those discussions and that they will include them in future discussions with countries that have comparable effective and free trade unions, because that has enormous value in getting the right sort of deal.
The fact that we need trade deals, that we need to have trade, and that Australia and New Zealand will be excellent partners does not exonerate the Government from their inadequate performance, which has been described in several previous debates and again here today. Also, it is not just about getting the deals; it is also about enforcing them. Another area where this Government and others have failed considerably is in allowing China into the World Trade Organisation, with the various qualifications that that required, and then allowing it time and again to breach the conditions under which it joined up, until it became much more difficult to take action because it had grown its economy, quite often by violating those deals as well as by using industrial espionage to steal intellectual property.
I want to touch on scrutiny. I fail to understand the Government’s reluctance to face scrutiny on this. They have a big majority, and the farming influence is not so dominant on their Back Benches, but in some of these deals they have a case to make. Given that we are not exactly overburdened with parliamentary business from the Government, because they do not seem to have got their act together, I do not understand why they are having these debates now and not at an earlier stage in order to defend their position—for example, to talk about some of the other benefits of the deals.
Visas for professionally qualified people have been mentioned. I have said in a previous debate that, where there is enough commonality in training, we ought to be asking the professional bodies what additional training an individual might need. They would not need to fully requalify; they would need only to undertake the necessary training to deal with any differences. This would encourage the movement backwards and forwards of professionally qualified people and encourage training in all our countries.
I fully accept that Ministers have a difficult task in remedying some of the deficiencies from the Truss era, but I hope that they will learn the lessons from these agreements and take them forward in future discussions, to ensure that they improve both the process and the substance as they focus on the deals.
Notwithstanding that, I hope both sides of the House—the new shadow International Trade team, as I said back in September, is a great improvement on some of our previous shadow International Trade teams, in having a generally favourable view of trade but a critical view of the detail—can then go forward and, bluntly, not follow those in the Chamber whose only answer is to go back to the EU, which has many of the problems associated with these trade deals. Trade deals are not easy, whoever we do them with. Can we just dump the ideology a bit and focus on the practicalities, for the benefit of our people not just in rural areas, very important though they are, but in our great towns and cities across the country?
It is a pleasure to follow John Spellar. I did battle against him in 2017, and he sent me running. I am pleased to be in the Chamber with him to discuss something on which we are of one heart and one mind.
I am partly here as a member of the International Trade Committee. Our Chair appears to have thrown his toys out of the pram and has not come to debate the very thing that he has asked about for the last 18 months. The Committee has done a huge amount of work over the two and a half years in which I have been a member. We have produced reports on scrutiny, on the New Zealand and Australia agreements, on UK Export Finance, on inward foreign direct investment and on digital trade and data. The reason for these reports is because we are signing trade deals at a rapid rate of knots, not too fast, as the Opposition might paint the picture, but steady progress. We are signing deals that will be of huge benefit to the UK service economy, to our producers, to British consumers and to the British public, and we should talk more about that.
The International Trade Committee is attempting to keep up with the Government’s ambitious programme to ensure that we are able to produce reports for this House. I agree with every point raised by the right hon. Gentleman on scrutiny. We have to have a conversation in this Chamber about scrutiny, which is not to be feared. If anything, the expertise in this House would be of huge benefit to both the Government and the Department for International Trade. The whole point of the International Trade Committee’s work is to be a critical friend by considering what works and what does not work, to try to strengthen the Government’s position through our reports and engagement sessions, and by consulting widely with experts across the United Kingdom.
We all wish to see the United Kingdom strike the most effective trade deals, although that might not be the case for SNP Members, who do not seem to support any trade deals at any time. I was accused of having ample dexterity in saying that I want to see scrutiny, but Drew Hendry, who is no longer in his place, started his speech by saying he is pro-free trade. I have never before heard the SNP give us such a line, because it is clearly not the case. The SNP says it wants to be part of the EU, but leaving the Union of the United Kingdom is the only thing that will cause an economic catastrophe for Scotland.
I welcome the opportunity of this debate to talk about the Australia and New Zealand trade deals. So often in this country we talk about import impacts rather than export opportunities, of which I believe there are many. We must talk them up. We hear the Opposition highlight that Members and Ministers of the Australian Parliament have saluted their trade deal, suggesting that we have got the wrong end of the stick and that Australia has got the best side of this deal. If the Opposition started promoting the positive elements of this trade agreement, we might find that people have a little faith in it. Scratch the surface of the trade agreement, and we will find there are huge benefits.
The International Trade Committee’s most recent report made five recommendations. I asked the shadow Minister about the role of CRaG, which was introduced by the Labour Government in 2010. We need to have an open and frank cross-party discussion about what new system we might be able to put in place. If we are not going to use the mechanism that has been promised, we might as well consider an alternative measure. I ask the Government, with the greatest respect, if we are to ignore having a votable motion, could we at least have general debates during the CRaG process so that we can talk about it before the deal is ratified? That would send a positive message to all of us who return to our constituencies to talk to farmers and businesses that might be concerned. That, at least, would be a simple thing to put forward.
We must also ensure that there is scrutiny and that Ministers turn up on time to the Trade Committee. We have had problems. However, as has been said, the Front-Bench team we have in the Department for International Trade is truly excellent. I have worked with a number of them on a number of occasions and it is reassuring to know that they take these points seriously. I have those conversations with them both in public and in private.
There is a valid point to be made on ensuring that Departments are joined up when it comes to trade deals. That was not always the case. The Committee certainly did not feel it was during the Australia negotiations. It was, however, better on the New Zealand negotiations. On the point about having a joined-up negotiating objective as a one-size-fits-all, I am less than persuaded by that. We have to be flexible in looking at the needs of each and every trade deal we end up signing.
We need to look at where the Australia trade agreement benefits us. As the Minister for Trade Policy, who is no longer in his place, said, 82% of our workforce and 80% of GDP are in financial services. That is where this deal strikes incredibly well and effectively. We will have greater access—more than ever before—to Australian markets. From architecture to law to financial services, we will be on an equal footing. That could increase UK service exports to Australia by £5 billion. Additionally, it cuts the bureaucracy that so many small businesses have been frustrated about.
Mobility offers the opportunity to support economic growth and recovery, and opportunities for people in Australia and people in the UK. It is worth noting that, under the new travel arrangements, which are based on reciprocity, there will be a youth mobility scheme; an innovation and early careers scheme; an exchange pilot; and a working holidaymaker initiative. I go back to what the right hon. Member for Warley said: the purpose is that there will be side initiatives where we can look at how to expand this. Trade deals, once signed, are not static; they evolve over time. We must remind ourselves that what was signed recently does not necessarily have to be the trade deal that we live with for the rest of our lives. We can steadily improve the deals and must look to do so. We should certainly be heading in that direction when it comes to the visa arrangement and shared professional qualifications.
Does the hon. Gentleman seriously think that that is in any way compensation for the loss of freedom of movement, and of the workers that we were getting from Europe, as a result of the disastrous Brexit deal his Government have negotiated?
We have a trade and co-operation agreement, a free trade agreement, with the EU, which is important to note—and which the hon. Member voted against. We also have a significant amount of opportunity to welcome people. The whole point is about having control. If we are going to sign up to new relationships with countries around the world, we want to be able to do so through the Commonwealth and through countries that have shared ideas and views about the world, and we should welcome that.
A point was made by a Member from Wales, whose constituency I cannot remember off the top of my head, about our inability to bid into Australian government contracts. I am afraid to say that that is incorrect. Within the terms of the Australian trade agreement, businesses in the UK will be able to bid into Australian government contracts worth up to £10 billion a year. That is the most extensive expansion the Australians have ever agreed in any free trade agreement in the world.
On the point about farming, I bow to the knowledge and experience of the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend George Eustice, but I was surprised that we did not hear more about the Trade and Agriculture Commission that we set up. I hope that that might be the vehicle by which we can ensure better scrutiny, and better enhancements and support for farming. We need to look at that issue. We have certainly had extensive negotiations in the Trade Committee about how we can use that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we were to try to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission, the right thing to do would be to move it within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and away from the Department for International Trade, so that it could have access to the technical knowledge and expertise that it said was denied it in the first assessment?
I will be in such dangerous territory if I give a straight answer to that—I am looking to see whether the Whip is behind me. I might say that there is significant expertise on the Trade and Agriculture Commission already and it is not for me to discuss how it is structured and in which Department. However, the issue was rightly raised by the former Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and it gave a lot of hope to many Members with rural constituencies. We should use that Committee, and I know the Government take it seriously when it produces its reports.
We talk at great length about the flow of people, ideas and goods when it comes to the CPTPP. In these fractured and difficult times, it offers huge benefits: a significant opportunity to ensure that we can strengthen our relations in the Asia-Pacific, encourage the diversification of supply chains away from China and encourage greater trading between those countries that share like-minded ideas.
I could go on for a lot longer about the New Zealand agreement, but I will touch on just a couple of things briefly. Not many Members in this debate have mentioned the huge benefits that have been secured in digital trade. If we want to see where the United Kingdom has really led the world, just look at the benchmarking of what has happened in the UK-Singapore digital trade agreement. The terms in the New Zealand agreement are truly extensive. They will make an enormous difference to countries around the world, and perhaps an enormous difference to CPTPP, which may end up using those terms.
On the environment, some Members have said that perhaps Australia has lower standards. I do not look forward to the moment when Nicola Sturgeon goes on one of her ridiculous trade missions to Australia, after hearing the comments of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey about Australia and its standards. The New Zealand trade agreement is the first environmentally ground-breaking agreement in a free trade deal anywhere in the world, yet not a single Opposition Member has mentioned that.
Is the hon. Gentleman denying, for example, the animal welfare issues—how animals are treated differently, how they are raised and how they are transported—and the additions that are used in pesticides and the antibiotics? Is he saying that is not the case?
I am saying that when the hon. Gentleman compares the standards of Australia with those of Brazil, that is a massive insult to Australian markets and farmers. I do not think we should do that. When we compare other countries, we must not talk down our Australian counterparts. We must work with them.
As I heard it, the hon. Gentleman used other countries as a reference and said that Australia was one of the worst. I am happy to go through the record in Hansard to look at that and I will certainly do so tomorrow.
It was also said—the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey said this as well—that we are tying ourselves in knots in having paper documentation in relation to our trade deals. This is exactly the reason the Government are introducing the Electronic Trade Documents Bill, which small and medium-sized enterprises across this country have welcomed.
I have taken up far too much of your time, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the purpose is to state we must look at our trade deals in the round. We must look at them as opportunities to expand. We must ensure that we talk them up, not down, and, above all, we must ensure that all the businesses in our constituencies are aware of how they can use the support from the Department for International Trade to reach new markets. Businesses that go further afield are more resilient in all times—good and bad.
It is a pleasure to see the newly branded hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) in his place. His language is a degree more restrained than I am used to. Perhaps I can speak a bit for him in making the points about scrutiny. Let us be honest about this: parliamentary scrutiny of these two trade agreements has been woefully inadequate. That is because of a lack of commitment by senior Ministers throughout the process to expose themselves to the Select Committee and, more generally, to scrutiny. That matters enormously. It is also a matter of fact that the process itself is inadequate not simply because of the lack of political commitment, but because there is not the capacity to hold Ministers to account, to hold the Government to account and to hold the negotiators to account.
George Eustice made some telling comments. I do not wish to put him in a difficult position but he was forthright in what he said today. He talked about the process and its failure to adequately reflect inter-departmental concerns and the fact that there was some failure in the political process, as proper account was not taken of the multiple needs that a trade agreement should address. That is the source of the concern over how we have operated scrutiny. We know that, post Brexit, the Government were in a hurry to establish that the UK was a nation that could negotiate trade agreements. That is not of itself anything to criticise the Government for. What we can criticise them for is the haste and recklessness with which that process went ahead, and their determination to say, almost irrespective of what trade agreements emerged, that those trade agreements were optimal; clearly, in no sense could anyone put that view forward.
In introducing the debate, the Minister talked about our being at the forefront of international trade policy. That rings very hollow when we know that the protections that the EU gained in terms of its relationship with New Zealand—the trade agreement and so on—were better for the UK agricultural position than those that we obtained as the UK. The idea that we are at the forefront of trade policy is, therefore, bogus and ridiculous. We have to learn the lessons from that. We have to learn we can do better.
One thing that Ministers have to take away from this debate is the need for a genuine trade strategy. On the basis of these two trade deals, it is impossible to see what the UK’s trade strategy is all about. I agree with those who said that every trade deal is going to have its own specific characteristics. That is inevitable. Even the New Zealand and Australia trade deals are not the same. It will be very different when we come to the CPTPP negotiations and when we come to negotiate with Mercosur and Brazil—the frameworks within which we operate are bound to be very different.
However, it is possible for the Government to share their overall strategy with the House. Some of the things such a strategy would address are obvious. Earlier, an hon. Member intervened to make a point about food security. In a world that is changing and where climate change is devastating the capacity to produce the food that the world needs, food security for our nation has to be fundamental, yet that is not written into any trade strategy that the Government have come up with. There is a need to balance the advantages and disadvantages not simply for the nation as a whole, but for different parts of the nation. That has to be fundamental. The agricultural parts of this country have very different needs from, say, the service sector of the City of London. It may be that we make great gains for the City and, objectively, nobody can be against that concept, but we will be concerned about the impact on communities if we see disruption of the employment base and of the capacity of our agricultural areas to operate in the way that we need as a nation.
Where is the strategy that allows us to see the Government’s ambitions for regional distribution? We know that there is very little reference in these two trade deals to the impact on Northern Ireland. That is such a serious matter when we are debating—whatever our different views are—the validity of the Northern Ireland protocol. How is the protocol going to be affected by these two trade deals? That is a matter of fundamental importance. But it is simply not there—it is not in these two agreements, or even in the way the Government are prepared to discuss trade policy. Across the piece, we need an international trading strategy that allows us to establish what our basic national interests are, and they are not there in either of these trade agreements.
If we look beyond these agreements, we will hopefully sign over the coming years many different and beneficial trade agreements, but they must be set against the objective standards of how we balance national interests. What is the national interest? Who are the winners and who are the losers? What do we do when there are losers, as there always will be in any deal that changes the terms of trade? On that basis, what do we do to protect the communities that are detrimentally affected by such changes?
Getting into the specifics of the two agreements, one remarkable thing is how much the Government have been prepared to trade away in a way that we did not see from the European Union. We know that the protections that the EU demanded, particularly for its own agricultural base, were very different from those that the UK obtained. Other hon. Members have already gone through the details of the tonnage that would be allowed, but we have ceded control in ways that the European Union simply did not.
I do not want to re-run the Brexit argument, but clearly Britain would have been better off within the European Union and with the EU’s negotiating position than with our own. That has to be a fundamental critique of and challenge to the capacity and competence of this Government. A simple conclusion would be, “If we cannot do better, why not?”. Ministers have not answered, or even attempted to answer, that in this debate.
Across the piece, we have gained relatively minimal benefits. Nobody can be against the concept of trade deals, but the benefits are minimal compared with what we have given away and what we could have negotiated better. My challenge to Ministers in this case is to own up. They have not done the work they should have done; politics and the need to gain political advantage by seeming to come up with rapid agreements have been put ahead of careful and skilful negotiation.
We need to get back to the fundamentals, because the way these two trade deals have been done cannot possibly be the template for the future. The real challenge is the fact that we need to do so much better in future. If this new grouping in the Department for International Trade are the Ministers we really want there, and are better than their predecessors, the question for them is why they cannot do better, because better they could have done, and better this nation of ours should demand.
It is a shame that this is not the substantive debate, culminating in a vote on a substantive motion, that many have called for, because in the recommendations made and questions posed so far in this debate, hon. Members on both sides of the House have demonstrated the value of proper parliamentary scrutiny of major treaties.
According to the impact assessment of the New Zealand deal, it will have a limited but positive impact on the UK’s economy. Understandably, businesses are keen to capitalise on the new opportunities. The Federation of Small Businesses is right to say that for our small exporters—and those wishing to start exporting—to take full advantage of new opportunities, the Government must ensure they are supported with the practical changes that will allow them to succeed. I therefore welcome the Government’s commitment to provide “practical advice and support” and dedicated websites for small businesses.
I would, however, like to ask for more detail about the nature of that support. Adapting to changes in exporting to the EU post Brexit is an issue that several local small business owners in Chesham and Amersham have raised with me. They have pointed directly to the inadequacy of Government support services, with one local business telling me at length how it understood the system better than the so-called experts advising it. I hope lessons have been learned and that the support on offer in relation to these new agreements will be of higher quality than previous efforts.
The impact assessment of the New Zealand deal states that the marginal net gains come at the price of a reallocation of resources away from agriculture, forestry, fishing and semi-processed foods. Of course it is unrealistic to expect that every sector will be a winner in every trade agreement, but it is important that we pay attention to those who will not benefit and will potentially even lose out, so that we can support them and the communities that rely on them.
In order to do so, I support the International Trade Committee’s call for the Government to alter their economic modelling to provide a more detailed assessment of how deals will impact different sectors of our economy and the diverse regions and nations that make up the United Kingdom. In Wales, for example, the trade deals with Australia and New Zealand may have a devastating impact on its world-class lamb industry. The impact would not be limited to the industry itself, but would also affect the communities underpinned by the lamb industry, including many Welsh-speaking communities.
Indeed, if we are to judge UK trade policy by the two new agreements we have signed so far, it appears that farmers are set to lose out the most. The National Farmers Union warned us that the Australia deal set a “dangerous precedent” for future free trade agreements as far as farming is concerned. The New Zealand deal only furthers those concerns: with the cost of producing lamb 63% lower in New Zealand than in the UK, it is little wonder that our Welsh lamb farmers are concerned about this agreement and the tariffs it eliminates. Taken together, the impact of both deals on UK farmers, who already face rising production and labour costs, will be stark.
One way the Government could provide reassurance is by outlining an overarching trade strategy, as Tony Lloyd said. Agreements do not exist in a vacuum and nor do their impacts. A clear, overarching trade policy should include a vision of the opportunities that new UK trade deals will bring to all sectors and regions of the country. It must outline our economic ambitions while also including minimum standards on human rights as well as environmental, labour and safety standards.
Importantly, that strategy must also act as a guide for negotiators, setting out a clear benchmark for success in negotiations. We cannot continue selling out entire industries for marginal overall economic gain, nor should we continue negotiating agreements in the absence of a strategic goal, and we must not allow agreements to come into effect in the absence of proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The first thing to say about international trade deals nowadays is that they are not just trade deals. They are comprehensive agreements on how countries will co-operate and how they will grow together. They are dynamic deals that will set the future course of the respective countries. They are, of course, very similar to the deals we had with the European Union in many respects, but with less scrutiny, less oversight and less public participation.
That can be more acutely demonstrated when we compare these trade deals with the deals the European Union is busy getting on with now. We can see that the European Union’s deal is much more advantageous to the European side than this deal is to our side. Why is that?
My colleague on the International Trade Committee says I should speak up for this country, as if I should be some ambassador for the Government, ignore how they are running down this country and only talk about the good things. I am afraid that is not the role of the Opposition and of Opposition parties. What we do is lay out how we would benefit our country if we were in power, and what we would do better for our country where the Government have failed.
Let us talk about things that could have been included in this deal, but were missed—first, food standards. In this deal, animal and food standards are frozen in Australia, because this deal gives Australian producers a competitive advantage. While they will not go backwards, why on earth should they desire to improve their standards above ours? That gives them no advantage. Rather than saying, “We will slowly reduce barriers as you meet the standards that we are getting to,” it says, “You have absolute access to our markets, and don’t worry, you don’t need to change your standards either”—that is, apart from some wishy-washy wording about some long-term desire; mañana, mañana. We all know what those clauses mean: nothing. The only thing that matters is hard trade law, hard tariffs and quotas, and on that, we have been let down.
In fact, when we asked the Australian negotiating teams what they thought of this, they said, “All our red lines were met; we compromised on almost nothing. It is a fantastic deal.” Well, yes, it is a fantastic deal for Australia. If one side has all of its red lines met and the other does not, it is clear who the winners and losers are.
We could have gone further on free movement of people. The extension of our current visa arrangements for the free movement of students from two years to three years is pretty pathetic. Free movement should be afforded to countries that are of a similar economic situation to us—that is why we had free movement with Europe—and that have similar flows. We have similar numbers of people going to Australia and of Australians coming to us. The expansion by only one year is pretty pathetic and will not make much difference for most young people, who already had the right to two years and could extend it in Australia if they worked on a farm. It is pretty miserable and unambitious.
The same can be said for climate change. In the Australia deal, the wording is weaker than, and does not go beyond, the Paris agreement. Australia is a country of similar economic and legal profile, and it now even has a Labour Government—unlike us, but not for much longer, I hope—so why can we not negotiate something better? The clauses on climate change are the kinds of things that we would expect from negotiations with countries that are much harder to negotiate with, such as China or India—countries that are much more problematic on climate change.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful point about climate change. Does he not find it incredible that all the concerns that might have been raised about climate change and the Paris agreement were scrubbed in the haste to get the Australia deal through so the Government could meet some arbitrary deadline?
Exactly. I must wrap up— [Interruption.] Oh, I will continue, then. I thought you were giving me the eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.
That is exactly the problem. If we have higher climate change standards, workers’ rights or environmental standards, and we have free trade with another country that has lower standards, all we are doing is exporting British jobs, opening the door and saying to companies, “Don’t worry about our climate change rules, our carbon trading or the standards we expect you to meet. Go and set up your companies in that other country, and we will still import all the goods and services.” That is an unemployment note for British workers, and the Government are signing it constantly, with country after country, because they are obsessed with getting deals over the line rather than with the quality of those deals.
The environment chapter ought to have been capable of actually changing the climate change debate in Australia, so it is disappointing that it has, quite frankly, no teeth whatever. What does that say to countries with which we might want to negotiate to stop deforestation, mining coal and so on?
Exactly. Australia is a deep friend of ours. I spent hours outside the Australian embassy for the last elections, canvassing and campaigning for the Australian Labour party, which is now in government—although I do not think that success is all down to me. I regularly meet our counterparts in the Australian Labour party, and I am proud to say that not only are they friends, but my senior researcher is from that party and now works for me. There are strong links between our systems and our people. If, with friends, we cannot negotiate a deal that has teeth on environment and climate, we have no hope whatever when dealing with much more difficult countries.
This is partly because of the Government’s refusal to have proper parliamentary scrutiny. First, there was no need for them to trigger CRaG, because the agreement cannot be put in place until we have passed the enacting legislation, which has not even come back for Third Reading. The Government forcing through CRaG without parliamentary scrutiny was just arrogance on the part of Ministers and the Government—there was no other reason for it. They show the same arrogance to the International Trade Committee, which, time and again, they refuse to come and speak to. I cannot ascertain whether it is the arrogance of Ministers or the arrogance of senior civil servants—maybe it is a bit of both—but it is clear that the Department for International Trade has shown in this process that it is not fit for purpose and needs a real overhaul.
I am quite in favour of some of the ideas that George Eustice set out. We should have a Department of trade, of foreign negotiations, or probably of foreign affairs—a Foreign and Commonwealth Office, one might say—that co-ordinates expertise in other Departments, such as the former Department for International Development. I was in DFID negotiations on the environment and on the Rio process year in, year out, all through our European period, and our colleagues in DFID led many of the discussions on the oceans and biodiversity. It had real expertise in those negotiations. We should have been using it. We have failed in the environmental chapters of this agreement because we did not leverage the fantastic negotiators as well enough as we have in other Departments.
The right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth was also right to say that proper scrutiny in this place can help the Government’s hand. I remember when I was a trade unionist, and we would want our members to lay out strong, hard lines to us so that when we went into negotiations with the employer, we were able to say, “Look, I am the reasonable one here—I am trying to get to an agreement—but my members are livid; they are angry; they are fuming. You need to give me a bit more so we can strike this deal and avoid any action.” It is the same process in trade deals, but the Government’s refusal to use us means that they have sold this deal short.
Finally, I will touch on procurement. In the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill Committee, we heard that some of the wording on procurement puts British companies in a worse position than they are currently, and I will briefly explain why. There is already a global agreement on procurement under which British companies already have the right to bid for procurement contracts in Australia. Those agreements require that if a company has worked up a credible bid that is then rejected, the company can claim certain costs. This trade agreement excludes those particular words. Of course, a company will probably go to the Australian courts or to our courts, where they will be able to argue their case, but the insecurity of different wording in different agreements now means that although a French company would have a 100% cast-iron guarantee of protection, because it is part of the same global agreement on procurement, a British company would be insecure in that protection.
In some areas, the agreement not only falls short of what we want, but actively sells our country short. That is why the agreement is such a shame; that is why we should have gone further; and that is why, if we had had earlier debates, none of this mess from the bungling lot on the Government Benches would have happened.
Farmers across the UK, but particularly in my part of Devon, are deeply concerned by how the Government have approached these new trade deals. Let us cast our minds back to 2016, when we were told that a veritable land of milk and honey awaited us and that new trade deals would be easy to sign. Since 2016, the Government have signed a number of trade deals, but let us look at the detail of that apparent success. Almost all those deals have been roll-overs aiming to maintain the terms we already had. Only four of the trade deals are new, including the Australia and New Zealand deals that we are discussing today—hardly the boom in export trade we were promised.
The Government’s approach during negotiations with Australia and New Zealand seems to have been to sell out British farmers left and right—and then some—to try to clinch a deal. These trade deals are more about attempting to garner positive headlines than supporting our world-leading agriculture and fishing industries. Both deals will see farmers across the west country undercut as produce made to lower standards will be allowed to flow into the UK.
The Government claim they will not water down our food and animal welfare standards—and on paper they may well not—but where does that leave farmers in reality? It will be almost impossible for our farmers to continue to compete on such an unequal playing field, particularly given the increased costs that are making everyone cut back. It is frankly ludicrous to suggest that UK farmers will benefit from these deals when they tie not one, but two hands behind their backs. Add to that the Government’s botched implementation of the payments with the new environmental land management scheme, which is already pushing many farmers to the brink with cuts to the basic payments, and we have a recipe for disaster for our farmers.
The upside in exchange for all this pain and misery set to be inflicted on rural communities by both these trade deals is a whopping 0.11% increase to our GDP. That is a drop in the ocean compared with the turmoil it will cause here at home. Many farmers across Devon are already struggling to make ends meet, yet with these deals, this Conservative Government have shown that they either do not get it, or simply do not care. More than 64,000 people across the south-west work in agriculture, and many are seeing their future put at risk owing to botched trade deals such as this. The New Zealand free trade agreement gives the opportunity for tariff-free import volumes to rise to 165,000 tonnes by year 15. That, combined with 125,000 tonnes from Australia, is almost the entire volume of lamb consumed annually in Britain. As the chief executive of the National Sheep Association said earlier this year,
“neither does it win on our aspiration for high standards, climate change targets, or reliable food security.”
Farmers across my part of the world will never forgive this Government if they continue down this deeply destructive path. As mentioned by Members previously, this debate today is not even a full debate. We are not discussing a substantive motion, as requested by the International Trade Committee, so everything we say here will not prevent the Government barrelling ahead with these plans anyway. We must ensure that this House and its Members have the final say on the trade deals we are discussing, and we must ensure that our aim is always to negotiate deals that protect and support UK farming and fishing, rather than bartering away those arrangements.
After a decade of economic mismanagement, with the chaos at the top of the Conservative party and the kamikaze Budget backed so enthusiastically by so many Government Members, and with so many entrepreneurs worried for the future of their businesses, millions facing rising energy bills, weekly shops shooting up in price and rocketing mortgage costs, it was striking that there was not one word of apology in the opening speech from the Minister on the Front Bench, Greg Hands.
This has none the less been a fascinating debate, not least for the contribution of George Eustice, who made a powerful and devastating speech that blew away the bluster and complacency that has characterised Ministers’ descriptions of the benefits of the Australia free trade agreement. He said that it was
“not actually a very good deal for the UK”,
and that Ministers had given away
“far too much for far too little”.
He underlined those criticisms by going on to point out that unless we recognise the failures of the Department for International Trade, we will not learn the lessons necessary for negotiations with other countries over other free trade agreements, such as, importantly, the CPTPP accession discussions. He rightly noted, as many others did—I will come back to the contributions of others—the weaknesses of the scrutiny process and crucially how it weakens the hand of British negotiators, which is a point we made during the passage of the Trade Bill back in 2020.
We on the Opposition Benches will table amendments on Report of the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill to reflect some of those concerns and to give the House the opportunity to begin to put right some of the weaknesses in the CRaG process.
In my contribution, I also pointed out that article 32.8 was a very strong clause in the agreement. It gives any British Government the unbridled right to terminate and renegotiate this agreement at any future point. Can the hon. Member say whether it is his party’s position to trigger article 32.8 and renegotiate the agreement?
We will always want to get a better deal and to seek better trading links between our country and Australia, and I will come on to that point a little further on in my speech.
Let me reiterate that this debate is happening only because all sides of the House have voiced consistent frustration with the failure to have proper scrutiny of the Australia free trade agreement in particular. That point was made by my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd, my right hon. Friend John Spellar and my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, as well as by the hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry), for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), for Chesham and Amersham (Sarah Green) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord).
Back in 2020, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham, who is not in his place, effectively said “Watch my lips” in the Trade Bill Committee as he opposed more robust scrutiny rules. His approach was one of effectively saying, “You can trust us to give Parliament proper opportunities for scrutiny.” Not surprisingly, his assurances quickly turned to dust. The previous Secretary of State, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, ducked scrutiny by the International Trade Committee eight separate times. The Government, as my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds set out in his opening remarks, triggered the scrutiny period of 21 sitting days for the Australia FTA before the International Trade Committee had even had the chance to publish its assessment, and despite Ministers regularly assuring us that this would not happen.
We know, too, that the last Secretary of State was not alone in wanting to avoid tough questions. The architect of the deal, Elizabeth Truss, cancelled meetings with farmers during her leadership campaign to avoid feeling their wrath about the deal she had negotiated. Let me reiterate that we support increasing trade with Australia and New Zealand. With two progressive Labour Governments, who would not want to support stronger ties with both? They are crucial allies and our ties have always been deep. We share security interests, and our culture and values are similar—enhancing our partnerships with both is only to be welcomed.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley underlined, free trade agreements carefully negotiated can open up new opportunities for British business, creating jobs for our constituents and generating vital tax revenues to fund our public services. Well-negotiated FTAs open new routes for supply chains, create better access to crucial raw materials and encourage innovation, but they are not zero-sum games. Time after time, Minister have failed to be open and honest about which parts of the economy will benefit under their negotiating priorities and which will not.
Under the previous Labour government, trade grew by 10% and exports almost doubled. After 12 years of the Conservatives, trade has grown by just 3% and growth in UK exports is lagging behind virtually every other major nation. We and, given the widespread concern, the country expected better than Ministers delivered on these FTAs. Ministers do not get a free pass. These deals have gradually exposed a Department for International Trade whose Ministers have lost sight of what is best for Britain.
Exports are fundamental to delivering economic growth and the good jobs that are crucial to tackling the cost of living crisis, yet Ministers pushed through cuts to business groups that support British exporters and prioritised Instagram photos on trade missions over meeting British businesses. We on the Opposition Benches hear time and again the frustration of British businesses, which note the greater help that other Governments give their businesses to export—a point that the former Exports Minister, Mike Freer, made this summer. During the recent evidence sessions of the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill Committee, business bodies repeatedly raised their concerns. To underline those concerns, figures for Germany, one of our biggest export markets, from January to September this year, compared with the same period in 2019, show a 27% increase in US exports to Germany, a 23% increase in EU exports, and just a 2% increase in British exports.
Instead of addressing those concerns and others about the FTAs, Ministers were busy attacking each other. Even for a Conservative party as disunited as this one, it was a new low when the previous Secretary of State for International Trade toured the TV studios accusing the then Minister of State for International Trade, Penny Mordaunt, of being lazy and not up to the job. We can only hope that the new ministerial team is willing to learn lessons from how these recent trade deals have been negotiated.
I have to say, however, that the opening speech was not encouraging. It was a speech that Arthur Daley would have been proud of at his best. Apparently the greatest deal in Britain’s trading history has been secured against all the odds, yet the reality is that the New Zealand FTA will increase our GDP by just 0.03% and the Australian one by just 0.08%. Given the Conservative Government’s disastrous handling of the economy, any help to improve our chances of economic growth is welcome. In particular, progress on digital trade, locking in customs and trade facilitation arrangements that minimise paperwork and the somewhat easier rules of origin for manufacturing goods, notably car parts, are welcome.
The sad truth, however, is that in the rush to get a deal—any deal—signed with Australia, Ministers did not push crucial British interests. Once again, the interests of the Conservative party took priority over the needs of the British people. The National Farmers Union said that the deal does “little for farmers” and
“simply opens up UK markets for Australian produce, whether or not produced to the same standards that are legally required of UK farmers”,
“the UK government has missed the opportunity to reach a genuinely innovative and world-class FTA with Australia”.
The huge giveaway to Australian farmers led Australian negotiators to boast of their success. It is as if Ministers have turned their backs on rural communities and decided that farmers did not matter in these negotiations. There is little on labour rights, even less on human rights and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey and others have pointed out, little on climate change.
The Opposition have been struggling to find things to praise the new Prime Minister for. After all, his is far from an impressive record: billions of pounds-worth of fraud on his watch as Chancellor, and huge tax rises and cuts to public services coming. However, his argument that the Australia deal was one-sided might briefly risk some consensus across the House.
There were other points of detail that Ministers did not bother to prioritise getting right. There is nothing substantive on securing protection for great British brands such as Whitstable oysters, Scotch whisky and Cornish pasties. On steel, the rules of origin that Ministers agreed mean that unlike most modern FTAs, Britain cannot import semi-finished project, roll it in the UK and export it tariff-free to Australia, making it harder for steel made in Britain to be sold to Australia. All the while, there are no similar restrictions on Australian steel entering our markets.
As we heard from the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth and many other Members across the House, this deal could have been much better and Ministers need to learn the lessons from these FTA negotiations.
It is a pleasure to have had the opportunity to listen to this debate, to contribute to it and, indeed, to close it on behalf of the Government, especially as I am doing so as the first Scottish Conservative Minister outside the Scotland Office for some 25 years, since the noble Lord Lang of Monkton, who served as Secretary of State for Trade in John Major’s Government.
May I start by thanking all Members for their contributions? It is clear from today’s on the whole positive debate that, on the whole, Members agree that the UK’s trading relationships with Australia and New Zealand are good for this country and for the world. In particular, John Spellar was right: trade has enabled the development of civilisation and human progress, and we need to make the case for it much more strongly. As Sarah Green said, the trade deals that we are debating will bring positive benefits to our respective countries and economies. We also heard from my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford, who is a walking example of the positive benefits that antipodean trade can bring to this country.
The agreements will remove tariffs, make it easier for British businesses to invest in Australia and New Zealand and deliver growth to every part of our country. They will also address trade barriers faced by small and medium-sized enterprises, such as lengthy costs and procedures, and allow our citizens to work more freely in both countries, thanks to new environmental commitments for businesses and travel. In short, the deals provide real benefits to real businesses and our respective countries at large.
Before I address the points about scrutiny and environmental protections on which most of the contributions have been focused, let me turn to the contribution by my friend on the Scottish National party Benches, Drew Hendry. Time and again, SNP Members turn up to debates on trade deals and ask questions in the Chamber and elsewhere, professing to be friends of Scotland’s farmers and to be standing up for Scottish agriculture as champions of rural Scotland. There is just one problem: the record shows that, sadly, contrary to the rhetoric, the SNP are no friends of rural Scotland and Scotland’s farmers.
I would like, instead, to run through how the SNP are failing Scotland’s farmers, given how strongly the hon. Gentleman professes to be championing them. If they were friends of Scotland’s farmers, they would have voted with us, as the National Farmers Union of Scotland wanted them to do, on the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill. If they were true friends of Scottish farmers, they would have listened to the National Farmers Union of Scotland, which has accused the SNP Government of operating in an “information void” due to the lack of information and slow progress of Scotland’s post-Brexit agriculture Bill. They say that they are friends of Scottish farmers, but when did the Scottish Government’s own agriculture and rural development board last meet? It was 10 months ago. That is absolutely shameful.
In only the last two months, the SNP has been criticised by Scotland’s rural bodies for having no plan for rural economic growth and no plan to support Scotland’s pig farmers. Its policies threaten thousands of hectares of good agricultural land. Let us remember, too, that it would take Scotland’s farmers back into the common agricultural policy. I suppose that without Westminster to blame, they would need to join the EU in order to have somebody to point the finger at.
I will not.
The SNP are not champions for Scotland’s farmers. They are political opportunists who think that they can still get away with professing one thing in this place and practising another in Scotland, tied as they are to their Luddite partners in Government, the Green party. The SNP is not pro-farming; it is anti-business, anti-growth and, as we know too well, anti-trade.
Could the Minister explain, in this middle of his diatribe, exactly what he will say to his constituents in his rural constituency about the contribution of the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, which contained startling revelations that will not please them?
In my 1,900 square mile rural constituency I have regular interactions with farmers—probably far more than the hon. Lady has in her Edinburgh North and Leith constituency. I will turn to the comments by the former EFRA Secretary in due course, but we will hear no more from the SNP on what is in the best interests of Scotland’s farmers.
Our trade deals balance open and free trade with protections for our farmers. As I have said, I have immense respect for my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for EFRA. I listened intently to his concerns about the trade deals, but I have to take issue with him and defend officials in the Department for International Trade, all of whom, without exception, are dedicated to bettering the trading relationships for this country. They all, without exception, have this country’s best interests at heart and are working day and night for this country.
I also point out that Australian and New Zealand beef and lamb suppliers are already working hard to satisfy demand from the booming Asia-Pacific markets on their doorstep. New Zealand already has a significant volume of tariff-free access for lamb to the UK market, but used less than half that quota in 2020. None the less, our deals include a range of protections that collectively allow us to apply higher tariffs to protect UK farmers for up to 20 years.
My right hon. Friend has an incredible amount of experience in this field. I would be happy to take up the issue with him outside the Chamber following the debate.
Our deals include a range of protections that allow us to apply higher tariffs to protect UK farmers, including tariff rate quotas for a number of sensitive agricultural products; specific additional protective measures for beef and lamb products, which will provide further tariff protections to our farmers; and a general bilateral safeguard mechanism that will allow the UK to increase tariffs or suspend their liberalisation for up to four years in the unlikely situation that the farming industry faces serious loss from increased agricultural imports. On top of all that, there is still the option of global safeguards under the WTO.
I will now turn to the points raised about environmental, animal welfare and food standards. I stress that we will never compromise on these critical protections—
No, we have not. That is why our trade deals include specific measures to uphold them.
Before I go on, I must quickly correct the record. Earlier, the Minister for Trade Policy, who unfortunately has a prior engagement in his constituency, said in response to an intervention from Tony Lloyd that the climate change agreement in the deal was Australia’s first. It is not; it is actually Australia’s second. It also has an environmental chapter in its agreement to the CPTPP. In addition, the Trade and Agriculture Commission has separately confirmed that our free trade agreements do not require the UK to change our existing levels of statutory protection in relation to any areas.
I now briefly turn to scrutiny, which is incredibly important. Contrary to the description of the right hon. Member for Warley of the scrutiny process, and always remembering that CRaG was introduced by Labour, the Government have made extensive commitments to support robust scrutiny of all new free trade agreements. These commitments greatly exceed our statutory requirements and we have met every single one.
I hear and understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Rochdale and I accept the challenge to go further and do better, but the Australian FTA was examined by Parliament for more than seven months and the scrutiny period featured reports from three Select Committees. I praise the contribution of my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall and it is sad that the Chair of the International Trade Committee, Angus Brendan MacNeil, is not in attendance today.
It is important to make it clear that there have been substantial travel disruption and difficulties from Scotland today, so it is unfair to single out an hon. Member who has been hit by that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman; I was about to reference the travel requirements. I was not blaming the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar for not coming, but it is sad. I am genuinely disappointed that he is not here to intervene on me at the Dispatch Box today.
By the end of the New Zealand CRaG period, hon. Members will have had the opportunity to examine the detail of the New Zealand deal for eight months. Of course, His Majesty’s Government also welcome the fact that we have a debate on both trade deals today.
It has been a privilege to speak in today’s debate. Our free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand are game-changing deals. They demonstrate that the UK is a confident, outward-looking, free-trading country that is ready to grab the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, and that we are a nation that is using the power of free trade to the benefit of great British businesses and the wider world—and as the right hon. Member for Warley said, to the benefit of all our people.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the Australia and New Zealand Trade deals.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In September, I raised the case of my constituent Simon Hagos in the House. The then Minister, Kevin Foster, assured me that the visas of Simon’s wife and child would be expedited, following the Home Office incorrectly applying its own rules. That has not happened. Separately, later that month, I wrote to the Home Secretary about my constituent Said, who remains stuck in Pakistan against his will in perilous circumstances. The Home Office has ignored my repeated efforts to get help for my constituent and I am yet to receive a substantial response.
Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise me on how I can resolve this serious problem where Ministers make commitments in the House and fail to deliver on them? What tools can I use to get a response from a Minister about an urgent and potentially life-threatening case?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for having given notice of her point of order. As Mr Speaker has said many times, the occupant of the Chair is not responsible for answers given by Ministers. Nevertheless, as Mr Speaker has also said many times, Ministers should follow through on commitments that they make in this House and should respond to correspondence in a timely way, especially when the matters raised are urgent. It would appear that the matters she has raised do have some urgency.
The hon. Lady asks how she can draw her concerns to the attention of Ministers and I think she has just done so by putting her points on the record. I am sure that Ministers on the Treasury Bench will have heard her, and I trust that messages will be passed to the responsible Ministers and that a speedy response will now be provided to her. I am sure that she will continue to pursue the matter. I have every confidence that the Clerks in the Table Office will be able to give her advice on how to do that if she has any doubt.