Thank you, Mr Rosindell. It is great to serve under your chairmanship. I thank Craig Tracey for securing this important debate. I will try to be as brief as possible.
International trade could not be more integral to both the history and the future of this country. Britain’s prosperity has always been tied to how we do business with the rest of the world. Our trading relationships determine our living standards, jobs and access to resources. It is high time that Members paused to reflect on the great trading potential this country could have under the right political leadership. Trade is not only a critical source of wealth creation; when tied to an open, rule-based system trade can also be a great driver of human rights and social justice. Now, in an era when unilateralism and protectionism is on the rise, it is more important than ever that we reflect, reject self-imposed isolation and explore fresh opportunities for UK businesses overseas.
Britain’s international trading practices can reflect our core values of mutual respect and shared prosperity, because not all trade is good trade. In international trade deals profit-making has too often taken precedence over workers’ rights and public services. The Government must provide more assurances in future trade deals with the US that our NHS is not put up for sale to large American pharmaceutical companies. If managed by the Tory right, trade deals, particularly those with the US, could severely undermine UK food, health and animal welfare standards. That could have a damaging impact on rural communities and undermine faith in the great potential prosperity that international trade can unlock. Parliament has no guaranteed role in scrutinising trade deals, despite their broad implications, because it currently follows an outdated convention from the 1920s. I believe that MPs must have a meaningful vote, as a minimum, before and after trade negotiations to prevent those damaging outcomes.
Yesterday, I chaired a two-hour panel discussion on Britain, Brexit and the belt and road initiative. As we prepare to leave the world’s largest single trading bloc, I asked, “How should post-Brexit Britain respond to the world’s biggest ongoing infrastructural project—China’s belt and road initiative?” It is not a question that the Government appear to be asking of themselves. This country is practically directionless on questions about long-term geopolitical significance; we are being left behind on the global stage. I am sure many Members have had—as I have had—countless conversations with dynamic businesses and talented, enterprising workers. I see great, untapped trading potential in my constituency, but we need to do more to maximise the opportunities afforded to those businesses overseas.
One in four British SMEs is currently involved either directly or indirectly in exporting overseas; supporting the growth of these industries is central to my work as an MP. I call on the Government to re-energise our approach to trade. We should reject the failed doctrines of free-trade orthodoxy and Trump’s tariff wars, to promote a just trade agenda, with an active state that is committed to upholding social and environmental standards. We must align our international trade policy with a comprehensive industrial strategy, creating opportunities at home and abroad that provide access to a range of skilled and well-paid jobs. A better future is possible and rethinking our approach to trade is the key to unlocking it.