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Trade Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 6:30 pm, 6th March 2019

I thank my noble friend for moving the amendment. The noble Lord is right: my noble friend has raised, effectively, three issues that need to be examined. One is the level of tariffs. In that regard I will probably disappoint my noble friend by referring back to my noble friend Lady Fairhead’s response from the Ministers’ Bench to the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, to set out a timetable for when those tariffs might become known. She made her points and they stand on the record; I probably do not need to repeat them. I also draw to the attention of the House The Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019, which was published on 26 February. On this occasion I draw my noble friend Lord Lansley’s attention to the section on tariffs, beginning at paragraph 31 and continuing into paragraph 32, which explores some aspects of the setting of tariffs.

Those are two aspects on the level of tariffs, but I now turn to some of the specifics to which my noble friend referred. He asked about the status of the common external tariff applied by the WTO. The noble Lord is correct that we have notified our bound tariff schedule to the WTO. Our bound schedule represents the upper limits of what tariffs the UK could apply on imports. If, for example, our bound schedule says 10% for product X, we could choose to apply 9%. The Government have yet to announce their applied tariffs for a no-deal scenario, but the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is correct to say that on leaving the EU we will be free to set out tariffs within the parameters of the bound schedule that we lodged last year.

The EU’s common external tariff—as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—is the EU’s version of its applied tariff schedule. These are the tariffs that will apply to UK exports to the EU in a no-deal scenario. My noble friend also referenced the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act, which states that the first time a tariff is set, and whenever an import duty rate increases, the made affirmative procedure will apply; otherwise the negative procedure will apply.

These amendments would make the made affirmative procedure apply in different circumstances. In the case of Amendment 10, that would be any time the rate of import duty diverged from the bound commitment made by the UK to the WTO; in the case of Amendment 14 the made affirmative procedure would apply in all circumstances. However, under both amendments it is currently stipulated that the setting of the tariff would remain a matter for the other place. The Act ensures that the scrutiny procedures applied to the exercise of each power are appropriate and proportionate, taking into account the extremely detailed nature of the tariff and the frequency with which it may be changed. The tariff is long and complex; it currently contains 17,000 types of goods and is more than 1,000 pages long. The EU tariff is subject to regular, almost daily, amendment, so the current balance of the chosen procedure reflects that understanding.

Once again, I express the Government’s appreciation to my noble friend Lord Lansley for moving this amendment, giving us the opportunity to expand on our positions and put those additional remarks on the record. I hope that is helpful and reassuring to him, and that he feels able to withdraw his amendment at this stage.