Future International Trade Opportunities

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:23 pm on 1st May 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Hollingbery George Hollingbery Minister of State (International Trade) 5:23 pm, 1st May 2019

I thank my hon. Friend Craig Tracey for introducing this important debate, and thank hon. Members from across the House for the many informed contributions, which I will return to before I have finished.

This debate is important because trade really matters to the UK. At £634 billion last year—equivalent to 30% of GDP—exports are not some separate add-on to our economy; they are integral to it. That is before we even get to our record £1.3 trillion of foreign direct investment, which last year alone created 76,000 new jobs, or the benefit of imports in giving us a wider choice of more affordable goods.

That is not the high-water mark, however: there are more opportunities to come. The patterns of world trade are shifting. We are entering a Pacific century after four Atlantic ones. The latest World Bank figures show China adding an economy the size of Portugal to its GDP ever four months—a pretty astonishing statistic. The UK will be one of the few developed countries to stay in the top 10. We can take advantage of that shift if we act now. That is why the Government have consulted on new trade agreements with the USA, Australia and New Zealand, and on potential accession to the catchily named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a cross-Pacific agreement that covers 11 nations and already 13% of the world’s GDP, including many of the growing markets to which my hon. Friend referred in his speech.

The nature of trade is also shifting. McKinsey estimates that digital trade flows contribute more to the world economy than the entire trade in goods. Services are becoming ever more international. The UK is well placed to take advantage of those trends, too. We have a flourishing digital sector, with Europe’s largest e-commerce market. We are the second largest service exporter and, as my hon. Friend mentioned, we have particular strengths in areas such as insurance, where Lloyd’s is the world leader in maritime risk and specialist insurance and reinsurance.

That is why, in December, we submitted our WTO service schedules, to give continuity for our service exporters, and why, once we represent ourselves at the World Trade Organisation, we will be pushing for further liberalisation and further reform within the rules-based, consent-based, multilateral framework it provides. That also means looking beyond traditional trade agreements, which is why my Department has secured market access for everything from energy trading in China, to beef and lamb in Japan.

My hon. Friend mentioned a report by the London Market Group. As a specific response to that report, we have set up a new workstream with LMG to promote insurers in Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries. I saw that at first hand when I visited Singapore not long ago and met Prudential, which is working with Babylon. Amazingly, Prudential has a subsidiary in Malaysia that is nearly 100 years old and another in Singapore that is 85 years old. It has subsidiaries in Vietnam and in Indonesia and business throughout the ASEAN region, and I was very impressed by its attitude. It understood the power of data and of digital to allow it to insure more properly.

Colleagues have raised a number of issues, and I would like to deal with one or two of those. We have published a Command Paper on scrutiny and have made it absolutely clear that we wish to be transparent in how trade deals are dealt with in the House of Commons. The House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, should have full and proper scrutiny and we are pursuing those models. We are coming to a conclusion about the way in which we wish to do that and no doubt we will in due course negotiate with various parties in the House.

The hon. Members for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) both noted that services are at the centre of the UK’s agenda. Barriers to trade in services are generally behind the border, and with free trade agreements we deal with those issues through joint economic forums and multilateral interactions.

An independent trade policy is an opportunity for the UK. I understand the issue of the weight of 600 million people, but that also means that our trade policy is compromised. It is compromised in a good way—do not get me wrong—but it is designed to fit 28 nations. With a UK-based trade policy, we, with the sixth largest economy—or the fifth largest, depending on how it is measured—will have a tailored free-trade policy, which will be for the UK alone, and there will plainly be advantages in that.

The hon. Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Harrow West and for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) made plain that what they want is no Brexit at all. We all have starting points on that question. I would describe myself as a democrat first and a remainer second, and the British people, while they did not speak with an absolutely unified voice on this issue, have told us that we should leave the EU. The hon. Members’ proposition simply does not deliver Brexit.

On continuity agreements, most Members will agree that there are all sorts of different motivations among our partners.