Thursday 16th June 2022

(2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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1. What steps her Department has taken to increase export opportunities for the UK’s green industries.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade (Mike Freer)
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Our clean growth programme launched during COP26 has boosted support for green exporters, including a new clean growth faculty in our Export Academy, while UK Export Finance has provided over £7 billion of support for sustainable deals since 2019. Our free trade agreements are liberalising green trade, supporting green jobs across the country, including on the Humber. This autumn we will host a UK green trade and investment expo in the north-east connecting UK industry with global investors and buyers to promote green opportunities.

Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers
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It is quite clear that the Government are doing a great deal to promote the green sector and make it easier for our British-based companies to exploit the export market, but given the commitments that have been made by countries across the globe at the COP26 conference, there is clearly always more that can be done. Are the Government planning any additional new initiatives other than those that the Minister has outlined?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The Government will continue to use the free trade agreements to liberalise and encourage green investment. We lead outward-bound trade visits. We are constantly seeking opportunities and talking to our partner countries to assist them in expanding on green exports, particularly in things like solar power, wind power, renewables and smart cities. These are all technological sectors where the UK leads the world.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Ind)
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What discussions has the Minister had with the Scottish Government about the potential for Scotland’s green energy industries such as offshore wind and hydrogen and the part that they have to play in a UK trade strategy?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I am planning a trip to Scotland in the very near future to have the very conversations that the hon. Lady mentions. The Department works closely with the Scottish Government. Only this week, we took a trade delegation of Azerbaijanis up to Aberdeen to look at how people can transition from carbon to renewable energy.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call shadow Minister Ruth Cadbury.

Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I start by endorsing your comments about our colleague, my friend, Jo Cox? She is still very much missed and always will be.

It is vital that we support green industries in the UK, especially those that are exporting products around the world, yet the investor state dispute settlements threaten green industries and renewable energy projects. Many of these provisions are in the energy charter treaty, which lets fossil fuel companies sue Governments who are trying to decarbonise, such as the Netherlands. Will the Government therefore support efforts to remove in full these protections for fossil fuel companies in the energy charter treaty?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I understand that we have never been defeated in any disputes on that particular subject. If the hon. Lady has any specific issues about barriers that she wants to have addressed, I am more than happy to ensure that that conversation is taken forward. As the Minister responsible for exports, I can say that those particular barriers have never been raised with me when talking to partner countries.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call SNP spokesperson Drew Hendry.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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If there is such great export potential, I am surprised that the member of the Scottish Government who, let us not say has responsibility for exports, because we have been there before, but who does specific work on exports, has not raised it with me. I look forward to that conversation when I go up to Scotland, but if this is such a barrier, I urge the Scottish Government to discuss it with the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con)
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2. What recent discussions she has had with her Indian counterpart on increasing (a) trade with and (b) foreign direct investment from India.

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Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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8. What steps she is taking to promote UK food exports around the world.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade (Mike Freer)
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The Department works with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to promote cheese exports in the middle east and China. We have dedicated cheese stands at trade shows in the middle east, such as Gulfood. We promote cheese through China’s social media. We operate “meet the buyer” events. For example, I was out in Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, and saw for myself how our Department’s people on the ground try to ensure that major supermarket chains have access to British cheese. We have over 100 specialists in food, beverage and agriculture, and newly appointed agri-commissioners in key markets to continue to boost this important sector.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers
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Mr Speaker, I hope you and the whole House will agree with me when I say that the cheese produced by the farmers of the four nations of this great country is the best in the world. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] So, I want to hear that cheese is at the heart of our trade and export policy. Let us hear about the action being taken to ensure that more people in the middle east, China, India and across the world are eating our Great British cheese.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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Let me reassure my right hon. Friend that the grand fromage in No. 10 Downing Street—[Hon. Members: “Groan!”] It was certainly a cheesy line. The Prime Minister has made it abundantly clear that he expects us to continue to push the export of food and beverage. It is working, because the UK’s cheese exports to the world were £565 million in 2021. Exports to China were £3.9 million in 2021, which is an increase of 3.9%. Exports to Saudi Arabia are up 53% and exports to the Gulf in general are up 16.2%. This is a British success story, which we will sell to the world.

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Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (Alba)
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13. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on measures to support companies to exploit export opportunities in international markets.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade (Mike Freer)
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Our export strategy and export support service have cross-Whitehall support. The “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” campaign will help to reach more than 67 million consumers, buyers and business leaders in 24 key markets. Our nine trade commissioner regions, our 40 Prime Minister’s trade envoys and our international market advisers are all helping businesses to exploit major market openings through our free trade agreements.

Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
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In the light of recent price hikes on fuel and ambitious net zero targets, seaport connectivity and infrastructure which allow goods, especially perishable items, to travel quickly are vital to businesses that export or wish to do so. With hundreds of thousands of jobs reliant on accessing the European market, does the Minister agree that the Scottish Government should make serious strategic efforts to re-establish a direct ferry link for freight between Scotland and mainland Europe? That would also provide resilience for international trade, given the ongoing pressure on ports in the south-east of England.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The hon. Gentleman is passionate about seeing ferry services restored from Scottish ports to mainland Europe, and he is absolutely right. Although it is very much a devolved issue, I am more than happy to encourage the Scottish Government to pursue it. It is a genuine issue, because the ability to build additional routes into the UK for freight builds resilience into the market and helps us to alleviate pressure points, particularly in moments of disruption across the straits. Importantly, as the hon. Gentleman says, it helps to reduce the carbon miles for haulage firms as they take goods from the straits to Scotland.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab)
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16. What steps she is taking to help businesses export to European markets.

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade (Mike Freer)
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Our export support service provides businesses with tailored support for exporting to Europe and beyond. Businesses are connected to our excellent array of support services such as the UK Export Academy and our trade show programme. We are operating bilateral partnerships to open up markets and overcome market access barriers. There is currently an eight-week consultation on an enhanced FTA between the UK and Switzerland. Those are just some of the measures that we can take to help businesses to export to European markets.

Chris Elmore Portrait Chris Elmore
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Research published yesterday shows that UK exports to the EU fell by £12.4 billion, or 15.6%, in the first six months of last year. I have seen that at first hand in my Ogmore constituency: businesses are being left with no option but to set up legal entities and warehouses within the EU in order to export. That is understandable, given the barriers that they face, but it results in jobs being moved away from the UK. Will the Minister commit to getting back around the table to reduce the costs and red tape that businesses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom are facing when exporting to the EU?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I have to say that I do not recognise that data. The Office for National Statistics data published yesterday showed that exports have continued to grow, month on month. For the past 12 months, exports to the UK were £650 billion. That is £53 billion up. Those are not my statistics, but those of the ONS. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he disagrees with the statistics, he should take that up with the ONS. These are the highest levels of exports to the EU since records began.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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Given that the Prime Minister’s poor trade deal with the EU has already damaged exports and cost jobs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) says, the warnings from business groups this week that the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill risks further damage to trade and investment ought to have rung very loud alarm bells across Whitehall. Will Ministers commit to publishing, before the Bill’s Second Reading, an analysis of its implications for British exporters and all those whose jobs depend on exports to European markets?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I will take away the hon. Gentleman’s request and discuss it with colleagues.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of Scotland’s great cultural exports. It has its own specialist vehicle for touring, but Brexit red tape and cabotage rules mean that it is very difficult and expensive now for it to export its cultural wares in Europe. Can the Minister tell us what he is doing to remove the Brexit red tape that is tied around our musical industries?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I can tell the hon. Lady what I am doing about it. We appreciate that creative industries are massive exporters for the UK and they are highly valued. What the Department does across all sectors, not just creative industries, where we identify specific barriers resulting from our new trading arrangements, is have regular contact with our partners in-country. Sometimes it is about interpretation of the rules and sometimes it is the rules. What we do is sit down with our colleagues to work out whether we can find a practical solution for the benefit of both the UK and our European partners.

Theresa Villiers Portrait Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con)
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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

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Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
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T5. My constituents in beautiful Hastings and Rye are concerned about the environment and climate change, but they are also aware that our local businesses need to expand their trade exports across the globe to benefit from post-Brexit freedoms. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to tackle climate change through trade policy?

Mike Freer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade (Mike Freer)
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Last month the Secretary of State set out priorities for green trade, both in the global green transition and in maximising opportunities for the UK by driving global action on trade and the environment multilaterally through our engagement in the G7 and the World Trade Organisation while strengthening bilateral co-operation through our free trade agreement agenda. By 2030, low-carbon industries could generate up to £170 billion-worth of UK exports. For example, UK Export Finance’s climate change strategy commits it to achieving net zero across its portfolio and operations by 2050. In 2021, UKEF provided £3.6 billion-worth of support for sustainable projects, an increase of 50% on the previous year.

Helen Hayes Portrait Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)
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T3. This morning we have heard some frankly staggering attempts to present a dreadful UK-EU trade context as some kind of triumph, but that simply will not wash with my constituents who are struggling with increased red tape when exporting to EU member states. Rather than building stronger trade links with our closest neighbours, Ministers are now ripping up the agreement they negotiated and risking a trade war with the EU. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve trading links with Europe and to end disruption for businesses?

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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
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T7. Since Brexit, many UK companies have stopped exporting to the EU altogether, whatever the Minister is trying to sell us. The situation has become even worse for many of my small businesses in Bath since the closure of the SME Brexit support fund. Will the Government consider introducing a new version of that fund?

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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I would direct the hon. Lady’s businesses to contact the export support service, which provides practical assistance in overcoming particular issues. On top of that, we also have the internationalisation fund, the shared prosperity fund and the trade access programme. Picking on one pot that is no longer available misses the point. A whole range of financial support pots are available to businesses. If she would like directions to those pots, I am more than happy to write to her.

Sheryll Murray Portrait Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend update the House on post-Brexit trade opportunities?

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Martin Vickers Portrait Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con)
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We heard a lot in the reply to an earlier question about exports of cheese. What initiatives are the Government planning to extend the export market for seafood? My constituency and neighbouring Grimsby are major centres for excellent seafood.

Mike Freer Portrait Mike Freer
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The Food and Drink Federation reported last month that food and drink exports are showing strong recovery as they get back up to pre-covid levels. Some of the specific actions we are taking include the creation of a new food and drink export council; this is between the Department and the sector, so that we continue the collaboration. We have also announced a new £1 million export fund to support our world-class seafood exporters, and held food and drink spring export showcases in the UK and overseas. I also urge my hon. Friend to contact me and I will arrange a briefing with our trade commissioner for China, where seafood exports are absolutely booming.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab)
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The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda is an excellent opportunity to promote trade with the Commonwealth. As chair of the all-party group on Africa, I am well aware of the important role that diaspora communities can play in growing trade, where familial and friendship links are so important. Newcastle, like many cities and towns in this country, has a number of Commonwealth diaspora communities. What specific help can people in Newcastle expect from this Department to trade with the countries they, their parents or their grandparents may have come from?