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Trade Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 6:00 pm, 6th March 2019

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Stevenson, for moving the amendment standing in their names and giving us another opportunity to discuss this important area. We are moving to a stage where we can consider how having an independent trade policy could provide opportunities, particularly to the least developed countries in the world.

I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Stevenson, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for the debate we had in Committee and for then participating in what I was glad to hear reported as a helpful meeting. I join noble Lords in saying that I found it an incredibly helpful meeting, which improved my own understanding not only of the barriers and hurdles but of the opportunities that are there.

I should perhaps deal directly with my noble friend Lord Lansley’s questions, rather than outlining issues that have been previously discussed in Committee and on which the House is already aware of our position. The noble Lord asked whether it is the Government’s intention to identify a sub-category of vulnerable countries. The answer is yes: we will be replicating the GSP+ tier of economically vulnerable countries.

The noble Lord asked whether these trade preferences would undermine human and labour rights. The UK has a longstanding commitment to universal human rights, and this will be reflected in our trade preferences schemes. As part of transitioning the EU preferences scheme, we will be maintaining a similar approach to human rights commitments.

On the question of who will investigate accusations of subsidies, dumping, surges of imports et cetera, the Trade Remedies Authority will be able to investigate cases against any country, including preference-receiving countries. In doing so, it will consider allegations of dumping, subsidies and unforeseen surges in imports which cause injury to UK industry. Where the TRA determines that a trade remedy measure should be applied, it can make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, who can accept or reject that recommendation. Such measures usually take the form of an additional amount of import duty above the most favoured nation rate.

On whether the SI will set out rules on graduated products, the regulations will set out detailed tariff lines, indicating which products will receive reduced tariffs or have tariffs removed altogether. It will also set out the rules for graduated products that are internationally competitive.

The UK currently trades extensively with developing countries under the EU’s GSP, which reduces tariffs on imports. Imports of goods from unilateral preferences accounted for 4% of all imports into the UK in 2017. Our first priority for the UK’s trade with developing countries is to deliver continuity in our trading relationships. In fact, the Government’s intention is to replicate all the EU’s tiers of preferences. This includes the Everything But Arms tier, which provides a nil rate of import duty on everything but arms and ammunition, and the standard GSP tier, which provides tariff reductions of two-thirds on tariff lines for low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

There will be an opportunity to look at how we should respond to and reform the generalised scheme of preferences going forward, but this will be a matter for future negotiations. In the trade White Paper, we invited people to make representations, and a number of representations were received on areas in which the GSP could be improved and these included areas such as rules of origin, which could be considered. As I have said, we believe that there are opportunities to look at ways in which the scheme of preferences could work better for the world’s poorest countries going forward, but our first priority is to ensure that the preferences which exist already—helping approximately 70 developing countries to export to the UK—are maintained; that is the objective of this Bill.