Clause 315 - Dumping, subsidisation and safeguarding remedies

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 18 May 2023.

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Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury) 12:00, 18 May 2023

As we heard from the Minister, clause 316 introduces schedules 19 and 20, which relate to the Trade Remedies Authority. When the UK left the EU, the UK Government established their own UK Trade Remedies Authority to undertake work on trade remedies previously carried out by the EU. The organisation was established in June 2021 to carry out investigations and recommend remedies related to dumping, foreign subsidies and safeguards for internationally traded goods.

The explanatory notes to the Bill explain that schedule 19 is intended to allow the Secretary of State to exercise a great deal of flexibility when making decisions on trade remedy cases. The notes also explain that schedule 20 extends the TRA’s remit to include bilateral safeguards in some of the UK free trade agreements. It also seeks to enable Ministers to request that the TRA open an investigation to determine whether the criteria to apply a measure has been met and what form a potential measure should take. It further provides Ministers with the power to apply a measure to ask the TRA to reassess its determination and recommendation, and to enable Ministers to take a different decision from the TRA’s recommendation.

It seems clear that the schedules represent a significant increase in the power of Ministers over the Trade Remedies Authority, which was established just two years ago. Despite its short life, the Trade Remedies Authority found itself at the heart of a political storm in Downing Street last year. Right hon. and hon. Members might recall that in June 2022 Lord Geidt resigned from his position as the ethics adviser for Boris Johnson when he was Prime Minister. In his resignation letter Lord Geidt wrote:

“I was tasked to offer a view about the Government’s intention to consider measures which risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the Ministerial Code. This request has placed me in an impossible and odious position.”

In his response, the then Prime Minister confirmed what the dispute concerned. He wrote to Lord Geidt:

“You say that you were put in an impossible position regarding my seeking your advice on potential future decisions related to the Trade Remedies Authority.”

Despite that brush with the former Prime Minister, the Trade Remedies Authority has continued to exist. The measures being introduced by the two schedules that we are discussing will have a significant impact on its relationship with Ministers. This is a fair amount of change for an organisation that has existed for less than two years.

To help members of the Committee put the proposals in context, will the Minister explain the Government’s reasoning behind the initial arrangements for the Trade Remedies Authority two years ago, and how the changes to the arrangements that we are considering today were decided? Will she explain whether there has been any international benchmarking of similar authorities in other countries? What are their levels of independence and their relevant relations with politician?

Clause 316 would allow customers to apply to HMRC for advance valuation ruling decisions. Advance rulings provide traders with a legally binding decision from customs authorities in advance of a shipment, which gives them certainty about how their goods are treated with implications for duty levied. The UK currently issues advance rulings in respect of tariff classification and origin of goods but has not provided advance rulings on customs valuation. That is because customs valuation rulings were not provided for in the EU. However, as the Minister said, they are widely offered by customs authorities worldwide.

We understand that the measures would allow HMRC to provide businesses with more certainty when they are deciding on the most appropriate method of customs valuation for valuing their goods for import. Anything that gives businesses greater certainty is to be welcomed, so we will not be opposing the clause. On a specific point of clarity, however, I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that the clause’s advanced rulings provision is required as a condition of the UK’s accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership.

Finally, clause 317 updates legislation to permit HMRC to require financial guarantees to be given for duty amounts payable on imported goods and ensure that decisions to require such guarantees will be subject to review and appeal rights. Since January 2021, section 119 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 has been used to require a financial guarantee from importers as a condition of releasing imported goods from the control of an HMRC officer where the amount of customs duty due for the goods is unclear. However, there has been no statutory right for an importer to request a review of, or an appeal against, such a guarantee requirement. Those appeal and review rights were inadvertently omitted when EU legislation was transposed into domestic legislation, which seems to have been an oversight by the Government. We will not oppose the clause, which seeks to remedy the Government’s mistake, but will the Minister explain what impact that mistake has had? Specifically, how many appeal and review requests by importers have been lodged but denied consideration since January 2021, and what steps are being taken to rectify any individual grievances that have arisen as a result?