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A Trading Nation

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th May 2019.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am trying to be in a good mood this afternoon. We will support the motion and all the amendments.

“A Trading Nation” is a detailed plan that draws on the expertise that has been developed in Scotland through overseas specialists, the trade advisers and the global Scots. It draws on the experience of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, making sure that we target the right sectors—not just the ones that already have the expertise within their businesses but those that can make the biggest impact and contribution to our export capacity.

We need to look at the potential for drawing out the best from the sleeping giants.

We also welcome the desire to improve measurement and monitoring to ensure that we make the biggest impact we can. The food and drink sector is important to my constituency and I particularly welcome that element of the report. I want to see further growth for that sector as it tries to achieve its ambition of doubling its value by 2030. That is why we will support the Government’s motion this afternoon.

However, two big shadows hang over our potential to tackle an increase in exports. There is Brexit, which, despite what Dean Lockhart said, is a massive restriction and could have a massive impact on our trade. The report shows that our major exporting countries are in Europe and we need to recognise that Brexit will damage potential relations with those countries. That is the first big shadow.

The second big shadow relates to independence, and that is where Dean Lockhart is right. There is considerable uncertainty about the currency that we would use if we were independent. What would it be? How and when would it come in? How can companies plan for the future if they do not even know what currency they will be using?

Those two big shadows are why we must recognise that we need to be an open, internationalist country that breaks down barriers rather than builds them up. For that reason, we will support Dean Lockhart’s amendment.

Rhoda Grant made a good case for ensuring that we meet the targets that the Government has set, and she helpfully highlighted that we have not managed to achieve them previously. She also expressed concern about how we keep businesses growing in this country and how we keep them owned locally. We want to ensure that we receive foreign direct investment, which can create a healthy environment and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of businesses. However, we also want to ensure that we anchor businesses in this country. The best anchor for businesses in Scotland is the quality of our workforce. That is why good businesses come to this country to continue to grow.

We will support Patrick Harvie’s amendment, too. I am regularly briefed by the trade justice group in St Andrews. It keeps me well informed and it consists of the most polite and persistent group of campaigners. The group highlights tax avoidance, labour exploitation, environmental standards and democratic scrutiny. In fact, we worked with Jeremy Purvis to table amendments to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords. We also recognise that considerable effort needs to go into ensuring that people are not left behind, that there is no labour exploitation and that everyone gets the benefits of increased exports and global trade. For that reason, we will support Patrick Harvie’s amendment.