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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 8:30 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I am struggling, because I fear we are mixing our drinks a little. On the one hand, we have had some debate—particularly from the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Lansley—on the mechanics of a TRA. That is, what sort of people do we want, and how will they be governed? We clearly want competent people, which is to some extent going to be a tough ask—not because people are not clever enough, but because they have not practised this particular activity. On the other hand, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Brown, are talking about the politics and economics of trade remedy. In a sense, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, alluded to the nexus between that decision—the politics of trade—and the role of the TRA. This debate is not unpicking those two activities.

We talk about having a wholly independent TRA, but as a country there seems to be some political convergence around the idea that we have an industrial strategy. Are the Government going to run one independently of the other? I am not sure that Germany does that. Even though Germany is beholden to Brussels, I am pretty sure that its trade policy—the way in which it works through Brussels—is very much beholden to its industrial strategy. Further homework is required for all of us.

I sympathise with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the ceramics industry. That industry benefited in this country from the political clout of Spain and other countries which have similar problems. If we leave the European Union, that support and clout will be gone. That will be true for many industries in this country, not just ceramics—agriculture is a huge loser in terms of lobbying in a post-Brexit world.

The question to ask ourselves is how much clout this TRA will have, when you have got the United States, the European Union and China. Let us say that this is a steel-dumping question. Does it matter what the TRA will do in the face of those challenges? We are arguing all sorts of important things, but by coming out of the European Union, we are reducing any kind of clout we will have in future trade decisions.