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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 Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 8:30 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for the first grouping, and the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for the second. I confess that I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for helping me merge these two groupings, but I was probably even more grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for saying that she would not extend that to the next grouping as well.

I will try to address these as best I can, given the significant number of elements that were raised. Clearly, a key priority of the Government is to help businesses expand their global presence. However, while we work to help increase exports, we must ensure—I hear complete agreement on this around the Committee—that our domestic industries are shielded from the damaging effects of unfair trading practices and unexpected surges in imports. That is exactly why the Government are setting up the new Trade Remedies AuthorityTRA—to give that safety net to businesses, which is provided for by Clause 9 and Schedules 4 and 5.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked how this related to the Constitution Committee’s report. I can confirm that the Government have responded to that report. The main functions and powers of the TRA are set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act, and setting up the body, as we are doing in this Trade Bill, is normal practice.

Free trade does not mean trade without rules. The WTO allows its members to provide a safety net, which we are doing. This safety net usually takes the form of an increase of duty on imports of specific goods following an investigation. Trade remedies, as these increased duties are known, are vital to level the playing field and restore our competitive balance. That is critical in areas such as ceramics, steel, and a number of other sectors. Failing to put the trade remedy function in place would have a damaging effect on those industries and the UK economy more widely, and we cannot let that happen.

As several noble Lords have mentioned, this is currently an EU competence. Investigations, decisions and monitoring are carried out by the EU Commission on behalf of EU member states. Once the UK leaves the EU, the European Commission will no longer perform those functions. That is why we are creating the TRA. This will ensure that we can continue to provide that safety net and help protect the 2.5 million people who work in the ceramics industry, for example. The framework for our trade remedy system is set out in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. My officials worked with UK industry, including the ceramics and steel industries, during the development of that framework.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about secondary legislation on injury calculations. The detail of the technical assessments of the TRA will be set out in secondary legislation under the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act. This has already been passed by the other place, which agreed that the negative procedure is the appropriate scrutiny mechanism.