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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 9:15 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord McNicol, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for tabling these amendments. I take the opportunity to clarify initially that the Trade Bill does not set out the policy framework that the TRA will be responsible for operating. These provisions are already set out in the TCBT Act 2018, including the economic interest test, which places a requirement on the TRA to consider the wider economic impacts of imposing measures on other affected groups, such as downstream users and consumers.

The economic interest test provides continuity from the Union interest test in the current EU system. However, we listened carefully to concerns that the Union interest test is, for example, too opaque and does not set out how different interests are to be considered. Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Lansley correctly stated, the Act specifies the economic factors which must be considered under the test, and that will provide businesses with greater clarity over how the test is applied. That is what business has asked us to do. In terms of the public interest test, I can only endorse what my noble friend Lord Lansley said.

In addition, there is an explicit presumption in the Act that, where injury is caused by dumped or subsidised goods, the TRA will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for the imposition of measures. The Government amended the legislation during its passage to make that absolutely clear. The burden of proof rests on the TRA to show that measures will be detrimental to the wider economic interest; otherwise it must make a recommendation, and any failure to do so will be subject to appeal. I assure your Lordships—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, who raised this matter—that this presumption will have the effect of ensuring that special consideration is given to the injury caused to UK industry by imports of dumped or subsidised goods. I wanted to say that explicitly in Committee here because I know of some of the concerns in the ceramics industry.

The Act also places the same presumption for the imposition of measures on the Secretary of State and makes clear that the Secretary of State can only reject the TRA’s recommendations for measures on public interest grounds, or where he determines that the economic interest test is one the TRA could not reasonably have made. Any such decision can be appealed by interested parties and must be explained in a Statement to the other place.

With respect to Amendment 87, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I remind the Committee that we are committed to ensuring that our industry receives protection. That is why we will transition those EU measures that matter to UK industry, including on steel, ceramics and chemicals, into our system once we have our own, independent trade policy. We will monitor the effectiveness of the trade remedies system and, if we find that it is not working as it should, we will of course make any changes necessary.

As I mentioned before, I am sure that the Committee will understand that the public interest issue is not something we can review or consult on. What constitutes public interest will change depending on the economic and geopolitical circumstances of the day, and the Government must have the flexibility to respond to such changes. This is a power that we expect to be used in rare cases and, when it is, again the Secretary of State will be required to lay a Statement before the other place justifying its use.

Your Lordships have raised rightful questions on the role of the devolved Administrations in relation to trade remedies. Importantly, the economic interest test mandates that account must be taken of particular geographic areas, as well as other economic matters that may be considered relevant. This will ensure that the impacts of measures on different regions—including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and regions of England—are given due consideration where appropriate and will include any information that is shared, or issues that are raised, by the devolved Administrations.

Further, regarding Amendment 89, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I reassure the Committee that any party not defined as an interested party may register its interest in a particular case with the TRA and will then become a contributor. This will include the devolved Administrations. Contributors will be invited by the TRA to submit relevant information, which it will be obliged to take into account in the investigation as appropriate. My officials will advise the devolved Administrations when an investigation is opened by the TRA, which will alert them to the need to take a decision on whether or not so to register.

Where the TRA terminates an investigation without recommending the imposition of measures, it is required to publish details of its recommendations and decisions. Contributor status will mean that DAs will automatically be notified by the TRA of actions it has taken. But I recognise that they will also—rightly, in their capacity as devolved government—have an interest in the decision made by the Secretary of State, including in having an opportunity to offer views on relevant public interest considerations which he should take into account when arriving at a decision. I can confirm that my officials will work with their colleagues in the devolved Administrations to put appropriate arrangements in place.

I turn now to Amendment 90B and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for tabling this amendment. As I have explained, the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act has already been considered, and passed, by the other place, which has accepted that the negative procedure is the appropriate scrutiny mechanism, as we discussed earlier.

With regards to Amendments 85 and 86, the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, is right that there should be an appeals process; indeed, this is necessary to be compliant with our WTO obligations. We do not support the amendment, but I assure noble Lords that there are already powers in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act to establish an appeals system for the UK’s trade remedies system, and my officials have been working closely with the MoJ to develop a clear, transparent process. I completely accept the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about how critical this is. I also agree with my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe that speed matters to companies too.

There will be an initial consideration when an appeal is raised by the TRA, followed by a right of appeal to the Upper Tribunal. This ensures that basic administrative errors can be resolved more quickly and effectively than moving straight to the tribunal, so limiting those cases to more substantial issues of law. It combines independence, as required by WTO law, with the advantages of a proportionate and efficient system. As the Secretary of State informed the International Trade Select Committee in his letter of 14 January, the judicial route for appeals will be to the tax chamber of the Upper Tribunal. The Tribunal Procedure Committee, the responsible statutory body, has recently completed a consultation on the rule changes required to allow the Upper Tribunal to hear trade remedy cases. Once that process has been fully completed, the necessary appeals statutory instrument will be laid in due course and scrutinised in the normal way.

Our proposed regime draws on international best practice from comparable WTO members. Its measures provide for the assessment of whether there was an error in law based on the evidence that was available to the decision-maker at the time, and some include processes akin to the TRA’s reconsideration.

I hope my responses have provided reassurance to your Lordships and that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.