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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Brown of Cambridge Baroness Brown of Cambridge Crossbench 8:15 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 101A and 103B in my name. I thank my noble friend Lord Kinnoull for adding his name to both amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for supporting 101A. I have two further amendments in the next group—do not worry, I am not suggesting that we amalgamate these, but I will provide some common background that applies to all four amendments before I speak briefly and specifically to Amendments 101A and 103B.

Materials are very important to us. I happen to be a materials scientist, so I would say that. They are important economically and strategically: obviously, they are the start of the supply chain for anything we manufacture. Advances in materials underpin the technologies and devices we depend on, from the structures and blades of wind turbines, to batteries for electric vehicles, to materials which allow the slow release of drugs in the body, to materials that enable faster communication of data—do not worry, I shall not give a long list. While we have world-leading academic expertise in materials, many of our materials industries are under pressure, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, highlighted. Many of these industries share some common features and it is these common features that make the trade remedies authority so important for them.

Many, such as steel and ceramics, are energy-intensive, so as we decarbonise our economy they will increasingly need to invest in new technologies, such as carbon capture and storage, hydrogen-fired kilns and things to drastically reduce or eliminate their CO2 emissions. They are affected by our very necessary requirements for high environmental standards. Many are located in economically vulnerable parts of the country and, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned, many have experienced serious problems in the past arising from dumping and subsidy by overseas Governments. Current world trade issues, such as the US-China trade dispute, resulting in overproduction in many areas in China, and Brexit are understandably causing concern.

So our materials producers, along with many other industry sectors, welcome the establishment of the Trade Remedies Authority in the Bill. They think the UK needs a strong and independent authority to investigate alleged dumping and subsidy cases and to recommend remedies. Producers need to know that the TRA will be a body that understands the impacts of dumping and subsidy on UK companies, to give them the confidence to continue with their investment programmes—investment that will be critical to delivering the Government’s clean growth strategy. We have already heard a bit about the definition of the membership of the TRA and its governance. Both Clause 10 and Schedule 4 make the independence of the TRA a very clear objective. However we have already heard that this does not sit entirely comfortably with the chair and non-executives being appointed entirely at the discretion of the Secretary of State. By contrast, the TRA will have wide discretion in the way it conducts trade remedy investigations, which is clearly crucial for its independence.

However, in combination these factors build a degree of uncertainty into the system for manufacturers. A strong message about the composition of the TRA board, giving assurance that individuals with current experience in manufacturing industry, from both a management and worker perspective, would be there alongside trade remedy experts, economists, academics, legal experts and people with other relevant skills would help remove uncertainty and risk for UK producers. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, reminded us, because trade remedies have been a Brussels competence, trade remedy expertise is likely to be in somewhat short supply in the UK. It is critical that the TRA board is not made up mainly of theoretical modellers and economists but has a real balance of theory, analysis and practical, hands-on experience. The recent move by the Government to accept the principle of involving those most affected by trade policy in its development—for example, through the recruitment of a diverse stakeholder strategic trade advisory group—is very welcome. Trade remedies should be no exception, with both producers and trade unions involved.

Amendments 101A and 103B would ensure that both manufacturing and trade union experience are present on the TRA board, and that there is consultation with stakeholders before appointments are made. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government recognise the benefits of this broad approach for the TRA membership.