Trade Bill: Lord Lansley

Speaking at the House of Lords on the Trade Bill, Lord Lansley said:
Lord Lansley

My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to move Amendment 64, the purpose of which is to seek from Ministers an annual report, starting after the end of 2021, showing what measures they have taken to exploit the benefits of the trade agreements into which the UK has entered and setting out how they propose to maximise the realisation of those benefits in future.

I should say that I was recently appointed the vice-chair of an all-party parliamentary group for trade and export promotion. Happily, it has gathered support from all sides of this House and the other place, led by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and Gary Sambrook in the Commons. It is timely that we should come together in this new all-party parliamentary group since it is important that we support businesses as part of the global Britain exercise to realise the benefits of trade and exports across the world. In many respects, globalisation has stopped. The expansion of global trade had stopped even at the end of 2019 and has gone backwards in 2020, for obvious reasons. The difficulties of achieving export activity and entry into markets in the midst of a Covid crisis are palpable. Businesses need our support and help; I hope that one thing we can do is ensure that the voice of business and those organisations that speak for and represent it will be heard here in this House.

My noble friend the Minister and I probably hark back to the days when we were responsible for trade policy in the British Government. I remember that, when I was a civil servant in the Department of Trade and Industry, I was responsible for the chemicals and petrochemicals aspect of the generalised system of preferences. We had shared competence with the European Commission in those days before we lost it altogether. The point is that those of us who have experience of managing trade policy in the British Government have to be, almost by definition, in our 60s or older. So we are learning afresh; happily, the Department for International Trade is learning fast and operating on a broad canvas.

However, the bandwidth inside the DIT for this task is taken up with the business of putting trade agreements in place. That is a vital job but we cannot afford to lose sight of the job that is also an essential part of the DIT: leading our trade and export promotion activity. The DIT does not do that alone—it does it with other departments across Whitehall, not least the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—but it is not down to all of us, not just government, to achieve this. It is down to businesses, chambers of commerce—including the International Chamber of Commerce and bilateral chambers of commerce around the world—and trade associations to make this happen, but they need to know what the government strategy is to do so.​

I want to say in passing that there is a tendency—President Trump is particularly guilty of this sin—to take a mercantilist approach to trade deals. When we make a trade deal, he seems to think that he can directly manipulate the volumes of trade between countries as a result of that deal. In fact, he is beginning to find that that does not happen; in truth, we should not expect it to. We are, I hope, facilitating, liberalising and expediting trade, but that requires the activities of businesses and traders to make it happen. The volume of trade is a direct result of their activities, so we need to enable them to exploit trade deals.

Also, it is far from the case that what is written into a trade deal necessarily results in exploitation by businesses. Preferential rates are often not used by many businesses. Tariff rate quotas are often not used by businesses in one country even though they are available for trade in another. The use of these trade deals is instrumental; we need to make it happen.

Unlike the amendment that we were talking about earlier, I hope that this one asks Ministers to do something that they want to do: set out the strategy for realising and exploiting the benefits of the trade agreements that we will, I hope, increasingly enter into—not just the continuity agreements that are the subject of this Bill, but the many international free trade agreements that are to follow. As we do that, I hope that a flexible strategy will come forward from Ministers soon.

I reiterate those two points. First, I hope that it is soon because we should have such a strategy in place before the end of the implementation period at the point at which we are operating once again as an independent trading nation. It is necessary for business to be able to see what “global Britain” looks like when we have not only left the European Union but exited the customs union.

Secondly, the strategy must be flexible. None of us knows how we will be able to access global markets easily in the course of the next year, possibly even the year after. These are intensely difficult times for traders. Some of the conventional ways of doing things—you do your market research, go into a market, participate in a trade mission, attend a trade fair, meet people, create relationships and build your business—will not be able to be done as easily as they have been done in the past. That is why it is all the more important, as we are hoping to do through the all-party group, for the Government to work with and through organisations such as chambers of commerce, bilateral chambers, trade associations and those who are able to work in-market alongside our embassies—in particular, to work in-market and in a commercial sense to create market opportunities for businesses.

For example, when I was at the British Chambers of Commerce 30 years ago, we took on responsibility from the department for the export market research scheme. It is important that we have a strong export market research programme in the years ahead and in the strategy to come. I hope that Ministers will publish a strategy in the weeks, rather than months, ahead to show how they will exploit markets and how “global Britain” is going to work. I hope that that will be clear about the sectors that can look to the Government for ​support and the nature of the support that they will receive. I hope that it will be equally clear about how we are going to operate in markets where priority markets exist and how the Government are going to do that.

I declare my interest in the register as the UK chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. A good example is the UK-Japan economic partnership agreement. It goes further than the existing EU agreement in respect of digital trade; I understand that our embassy in Tokyo has for the first time appointed a digital attaché. I hope that we will see a build-up of activity in markets by the Government, but also by the business communities, to make these trade agreements not only real, in the sense that we spent a lot of time discussing them, and not just signed, ratified, authenticated and implemented. Implementation is not a legal process; it has to become a market-orientated process.

I hope that my noble friend will be able to say that these amendments are not necessary because the Government are firmly fixed on renewing their trade and export promotion strategy—the last time they did so was in 2018, I think, but so much has happened since then—and setting it out soon in a way that really engages business organisations and the business community in making real the ambitions of global Britain, to which I think we all subscribe. I beg to move.

Lord Lansley View in Hansard: https://bit.ly/36Qx1Hq