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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 Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I, too, am pleased to take part in the debate and I congratulate the minister on his work on Scotland as a trading nation and on the new export action plan. It is important at any time, but even more so at this time of such UK domestic uncertainty and global trade disruption, not least from Brexit and the US president. Apparently, it is now termed “slowbalisation”.

It is encouraging that the Fraser of Allander institute welcomes the level of analysis that has gone into the decisions taken by the minister in the action plan, saying:

“everyone should welcome the new analysis and evidence provided. It marks a significant step forward in our understanding of the challenges and opportunities that Scotland faces in its efforts to boost international trade.”

It is true that Scotland’s exports are lower than those of any other comparable country and that our export base is concentrated in a small number of sectors and firms. It is not unusual for small countries to base their exports in a small number of firms and sectors or markets, but it seems that we have a particular challenge with that here in Scotland.

With the relatively limited resources available for business support through our enterprise agencies, it is important that the focus of “A Trading Nation” is on what export strengths the Scottish Government should promote, where we should promote those strengths, when we should step up our presence in those markets, who we should work with most intensively to boost our export performance and how we best configure Government and wider support to deliver our export goals.

It is interesting that the work has profiled the 26 countries that account for 80 per cent of our current exports, the export value gap and where the bulk of future growth may come from. Those countries include the USA, China, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Belgium, Ireland, Norway and Denmark. It will not have escaped the notice of anyone in the chamber that 10 out of the 15 countries that I mentioned are in the EU. It is wrong to say that substantial growth cannot still be had in EU countries and so it is absolute folly that the UK Government is preparing to upset those trading links by pursuing Brexit, even countenancing a hard Brexit.

Food and drink is one of the key sectors for exports to our European neighbours, not least of the fresh fish products from the processors in my Aberdeen South and North Kincardine constituency. Not only are those markets in jeopardy, but even if they continue, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs refuses to guarantee priority access for those perishables on ferries crossing the channel.

Similarly, the said secretary of state is resigned to seeing the lamb export, and thus, our sheep sector, go to the wall as a victim of Brexit. I cannot work out how he squares our having to import lamb from New Zealand in polluting ships and aircraft with his declared concern for climate change.

Although the food and drink sector is undoubtedly a Scottish success story and there is still much growth to be had in it, there is also worldwide growth to be had in the energy sector, including renewables. I highlight Aberdeen-based Global Pipe Components, which specialises in manufacturing and supplying pipes and valves to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. Currently, more than 80 per cent of its products go overseas and the company praises the globalscot network for helping it to identify markets. I hope that the minister already has Offshore Europe 2019 firmly fixed in his diary.