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Business and Trade (Non-European Union Countries)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd November 2016.

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Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

4. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to show that Scotland is open for business with non-European Union countries. (S5O-00274)

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government is building on the ambitious internationalisation agenda that was set out in March this year in “Scotland’s Trade and Investment Strategy 2016-21”. To make it clear that Scotland is open for business with Europe and with the rest of the world, we are establishing a minister-led trade board to bring together business interests; we are further developing the globalscot network; and we are appointing trade envoys to champion export market opportunities.

Scottish Government agencies are working to help more Scottish businesses to become exporters and to attract inward investment into Scotland. I appreciate that this relates to the EU, but we are opening innovation and investment hubs in Dublin, London, Brussels and Berlin as well as doubling the number of Scottish Development International staff across Europe. Following the EU referendum, the Scottish Government is engaging directly with businesses to listen to concerns, provide reassurance and reiterate that Scotland remains open for business.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

The First Minister has made clear her efforts to boost trade with the EU in the wake of the EU referendum result through measures such as those that have just been referred to. However, in 2014, less than half—42 per cent—of Scotland’s exports were destined for the EU, which was a decline of £985 million on the previous year. The destination country for the largest amount of Scottish exports is the United States of America.

There is considerable trade growth potential in the huge world market of 7 billion people, as compared with the EU population of 500 million. Will the Scottish Government commit to taking new specific measures, together with the United Kingdom Government, to increase Scotland’s trade influence in parts of the world other than the EU, post-Brexit?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I think that it was evident from my first answer that we commit to doing that. For example, we have engagement in Kazakhstan coming up shortly and engagement in the middle east that relates to the oil and gas industry. In addition, we have a substantial presence in the US and China, which we want to build on.

Gordon Lindhurst makes an interesting point about the UK Government. His question acknowledges for the first time among the Conservatives that two Governments are involved in the economy of Scotland. Last week, not a single Conservative member would concede that the UK Government shares responsibility for Scotland’s economic performance, so I am pleased that Gordon Lindhurst has done so.

I made it clear to Liam Fox when I met him that we are happy and keen to work jointly in areas where it makes sense to do so and so that we do not duplicate effort. For example, I had a meeting with a large group of chief executive officers from India, which was in conjunction with the UK Government. We are happy to take that approach, but it takes two to do that and we are waiting to hear more from Liam Fox about how we can encourage that.

I mentioned the engagement in Kazakhstan, which will happen next year. We have decided to work with the UK Government on that, because that can produce the best results. We are happy to do that, but it takes two to tango.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, if we had the powers to reinstate post-study work visas, we could give the message that Scotland is open for business to people with skills who can contribute greatly to the Scottish economy?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

That is one area in which one hopes that joint working between the Scottish Government and the UK Government will produce a beneficial effect. Even if the UK Government did not want to continue the use of post-study work visas in the rest of the UK, it could, through working with the Scottish Government, allow Scotland to use them.

A similar constraint in the US was quickly changed when the potential economic damage to the country was acknowledged, as will be the case for Scotland if people who study here do not have the opportunity to work here. The return of the visa would restore an important economic lever to Scotland and send a clear message around the world that Scotland is open for business.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

We all care about increasing exports but, in evidence to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, a number of independent experts told us that the greatest potential for growth in exports lies in our proximity to our nearest market. What is the Scottish Government doing to increase exports to the rest of the UK, which is Scotland’s largest and nearest export market? What new initiatives is the Scottish Government bringing forward?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I have detailed some of those initiatives in my previous answers. Our nearest market is actually the European Union— we are in the EU single market. The member might want to acknowledge that fact and do a bit of work on the subject.

We are trying to defend our position in the EU market. Unfortunately, Scottish Labour is trying to provide political cover for its friends in the better together campaign and among the Brexiteers by trying to talk up the UK aspect. I am keen to increase our trade activity with the rest of the UK, with the EU and——as I highlighted in my answers to previous questions—around the world. I do not see that those three aims should conflict with one another; we should support them all.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I apologise to members whose questions I could not take.