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Examination of Witness

Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 16th June 2020.

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Konrad Shek gave evidence.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South 10:31 am, 16th June 2020

We will now hear oral evidence from Konrad Shek, deputy director for policy and regulation at the Advertising Association. We have until 11 o’clock. We are experiencing some technical difficulties, Konrad, so if you can speak slowly and project your voice, the Committee will appreciate it. Please introduce yourself for the record.

Konrad Shek:

Thank you very much, Chairman. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Konrad Shek, deputy director for policy and regulation at the Advertising Association, which is a tripartite trade body that represents brands, advertisers, agencies and media. We also represent direct marketing and market research. Shall I give some background to the association?

Konrad Shek:

The association is a member of the Professional and Business Services Council, which is co-sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and also a member of the Creative Industries Council, which is sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. I sit on a number of the DIT expert trade advisory groups. Among professional business services, advertising and market research is one of the largest exporters. We exported £9.7 billion, according to the latest Office for National Statistics figures.

There is general support for the Trade Bill from our members from the trade continuity perspective. I would caveat that somewhat, given that many of our members are preoccupied with covid-19 and Brexit. The technical details of the Trade Bill are perhaps not a high priority among members at the moment.

Trade with the EU is a significant portion of exports. The largest destination for our exports is France and Germany, so there is a lot of interest in getting a deal with the EU. There is also a lot of interest in the public procurement side of things from ad agencies and market research companies. Advertising agencies typically get involved in trade investment promotion, events and education promotion. They work for state-owned enterprises, especially sovereign wealth funds. Market research companies obviously get involved in opinion polling. Because of the international nature of London, we are very fortunate to be a global hub for advertising and market research, and a lot of companies get invited to tender for such projects.

Konrad Shek:

Looking at some of the research out there, and analysis of the Bill, there is probably capacity for more scrutiny of the Bill. There is probably a lack of detail on the Trade Remedies Authority, although that is not necessarily a huge priority for us. A lot of remedies tend to be focused on the producer side of things, whereas we tend to export a lot more services. From the association’s point of view, I do not think that we necessarily have strong views on where the Bill would be improved, other than what I have said.

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage

I want to ask you about the data collection provisions in the Bill. I would have thought that your members might welcome that data being collected, and being used to help to promote companies in this country around the world.Q

Konrad Shek:

One of the difficulties about data collection for services generally is that it is quite hard to collect that information. When you see reports from the ONS on the export of services, there is a significant lag in the reporting of that information. It is not quite as easy and straightforward as reporting the export of goods. Obviously, if there were an improvement in collecting data regarding the export of services, that would be hugely beneficial.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q Good morning, Konrad. Thank you for your opening remarks and your answers so far. You touched on procurement and the opportunities for your members. Do you see the provisions in the Bill as increasing those opportunities?

Konrad Shek:

From what I have seen, the Bill would really lock in current arrangements, rather than bring new opportunities as such. My understanding of the Bill is that it is more about continuity. The UK is a member in its own right. That carries benefits, because we have the opportunity to contribute directly and influence the rule-making around Government procurement, but my understanding is that there is a roll-over of current commitments on offer, based on the EU schedule. My analysis of it is that it is really just maintaining the status quo.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q To pick up on the theme of how we would improve the Bill, is there anything on procurement that you would like to see done differently that would be consistent with what is in the Government procurement agreement part of the Bill?

Konrad Shek:

Anything that could be done to help small and medium-sized enterprises to get involved in the public procurement market would be hugely beneficial. There are a lot of SME-type firms in the advertising and market research industries, and there are natural psychological barriers to participating in such projects. There are also cultural barriers, particularly if you go into markets where they do not necessarily speak the language. One of the benefits of the GPA is that there is a standardised process, whereby tenders are put out in the standard languages of the World Trade Organisation, and there is a certain amount of transparency about the bidding process, which helps with the overall level playing field.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q What kind of support do your SME members receive to break into the sort of markets you have just described, and are there things that you would like to see being done better, to help to break down some of those barriers?

Konrad Shek:

A lot of our companies are flexible, particularly in terms of their structures and how they operate around the world. Obviously, the larger agencies have local subsidiaries or local partners, but smaller agencies will probably rely on DIT support; activities such as those to do with taking part in trade fairs or trade missions are hugely beneficial for the smaller companies. There is a real mix.

As I said in my opening comments, we are quite fortunate: with London being a global hub, we are finding that business also comes to us; we do not necessarily have to search for it overseas. But there are definitely opportunities, particularly in the middle east, which are perhaps slightly harder to navigate, and without those local connections, SMEs may find it harder to get the resources to understand things.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q Is there anything that DIT could do differently to improve that support for you?

Konrad Shek:

Given what is happening with the global economy in the light of covid, it is quite important for DIT to continue lobbying host Governments to keep their markets open and to refrain from trade protectionism—to keep the trade flowing as much as possible. It could also potentially do more work to get intelligence on the ground, understand new projects that might be coming into the pipeline, and feed that quickly to companies.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons)

Q To pick up on a point about the competitiveness of the sector, you said, quite rightly, that London is a global leader, both in market research and advertising output. Are you happy with the protection through the TRA, whether it be for intellectual property or otherwise?

Konrad Shek:

I do not have a particular view on the Trade Remedies Authority at the moment. As I say, a lot of these anti-dumping subsidies tends to fall on the exports of goods rather than services. It is very hard to understand what distortions might come into play. As services are delivered by people, they are generally affected more by migration and immigration policies than subsidies or specific duties. I cannot think of a particular example at the moment, but there is a possibility that a country may put a tax on digital trade.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Q One of the areas of the Bill that we may discuss is future free trade agreements. Have you any particular offensive interests, in terms of future free trade agreements?

Konrad Shek:

There is obviously a lot of interest in future free trade agreements. There seems to be a lot of discussion about moving away from the current structures of free trade agreements and looking for these lighter, more flexible types of free trade agreements, which can be negotiated in a shorter time. That is something we welcome, but there is obviously a trade-off; the lighter and more flexible type of agreements mean there is a lot better detail.

We would welcome having these agreements—[Inaudible.] Also, it has an important information aspect. If the UK signs a free trade agreement with a country, that disseminates the information that it is okay, or encouraged, to do business with that country. It sends a very good signal in terms of promoting trade investment links.

There probably needs to be some thought as well about the consultation process and the understanding of what companies require in terms of the wider economy and understanding the trade-offs. By opening or liberalising one particular sector, do we lose out in other sectors? There needs to be a balance, and a lot of political decisions need to be taken there.

There is scope for more consultation and perhaps a feedback process, hopefully for constructive criticism. One issue I have found with the DIT consultation is that it was good that we were able to feed in information, but there was perhaps less information being fed back to help in understanding about how issues lay or were being prioritised in the whole agreement.

Photo of Theo Clarke Theo Clarke Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

Q My question is about what would happen to the trade preferences given under the EU’s economic partnership agreements with developing world partners. I am thinking about countries such as Kenya, Ghana and those in the Caribbean.

Konrad Shek:

I do not have that much information on them. I do not suspect that our advertising agencies have a huge amount of business with those types of country. I do not have a particular view on that. There may be some side projects, perhaps for market research, but I do not have any detail on that.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South

If no more Members want to ask questions, I thank you very much for your time, Konrad. That was very useful for the Committee.

Sitting suspended.