It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I welcome Ruth Jones to her place, and look forward to many happy hours spent together discussing interests that have always engaged us both, particularly those involving the environment and food waste.
I congratulate Bill Esterson on securing this important debate. As he made clear, our chemical sector is world leading and vital to a wide range of other key industries, such as pharmaceuticals, automotive and aerospace. He gave some good examples from his own constituency and demonstrated his knowledge of how important that is, as did other Members present. We all know that the chemical industry is an important one, and want to ensure it continues to succeed.
In 2018, the total trade in chemicals in the UK, including chemical products, was worth £60.2 billion. The UK chemical sector directly employs more than 100,000 people. That sector is an important part of the economy in all the UK regions, with some major chemical clusters that are, unsurprisingly, represented in the Chamber today. They include Teesside, Humberside, Southampton, Grangemouth—mentioned by Dave Doogan, whom I welcome to his place—and north-west England, which has the highest number of employees in the sector, with some 24,000 people in the region working in the chemical industry.
Leaving the EU provides us with a unique opportunity to develop a regulatory environment that will not only deliver the high standards mentioned by the hon. Member for Newport West, but be flexible according to our current and future needs. Now that we have left the EU, our priority is to maintain an effective regulatory system for the management and control of chemicals, to safeguard human health and the environment, and to respond to emerging risks. We need to ensure that our chemical industry continues to flourish in the UK and abroad, building on our strong trading links with the EU and seizing new export opportunities now we have the freedom to trade with the rest of the world.