Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 3:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, the House will have seen that there are a number of amendments in my name, as well as those of other colleagues, on the Marshalled List for this Bill. We are taking our role very seriously by approaching this Bill in a constructive manner and, where there are opportunities to try to strengthen its measures, to reflect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, the complex, deep and comprehensive trading relationships we have with countries and to take into consideration new standards of quality in provision, and ethics and values in trading. The amendment to the Motion should also be seen in that light.

The United Kingdom has trading arrangements with 104 countries by virtue of our membership of the EU. Thirty-five countries have arrangements in place, 47 partly in place and there are 22 agreements pending. A further five are being updated and there are ongoing negotiations with a further 21. All told, this represents 66% of all United Kingdom trade. That has brought down the average tariff for anyone who trades with United Kingdom to 2%. If there is no deal and no agreements are in place to secure the continuity of the trading relationship, under most favoured nation status under WTO rules trading with the United Kingdom would immediately become 5.7% more expensive. Tariffs would go up almost threefold. That would be a direct consequence of this Parliament not having the ability to scrutinise these arrangements.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others have said, the Bill will also set the parameters of future trading relationships, in particular our relationships with the least-developed nations around the world. The countries that trade with us that have most at stake are not necessarily those such as Japan or Korea, which have deep and comprehensive trading agreements —although we have heard nothing from the Government about whether they are even in a position to roll those over legally—but the least-developed nations, which rely almost entirely in some sectors on their trading with the United Kingdom and are now being left in limbo.

It was deeply insulting for Dr Fox to make his statement about countries not lifting the heavy burden to trade with us when we have asked them to do so. For us as a House to give due consideration to such an important measure, which has been slipped at the Government insistence time and again, it is necessary for us to say that the Government now need to bring clarity on how many agreements are ready to be brought forward. On the government’s calendar, there are fewer than 30 sitting days. How on earth will we be able to afford proper, full scrutiny of nearly 100 international agreements, on which our economy is dependent?