Free and fair trade is key to the global and UK economies and indeed to our prosperity as a country after Brexit.
Just a short trip up the Solent from my constituency of Fareham to the port at Southampton, and we can see how the potential for a global Britain. Container cranes heave cargo smoothly on and off enormous ships berthed at the quayside. Rows of new cars, and other British products await shipment to destinations including China, the US and beyond. It is a top port for international trade, and already the scene is one of frictionless commerce.
We have a great opportunity to become a beacon of free trade in goods and services; we have a great opportunity to be at the centre of a new engine of global growth; and we have a great opportunity now to say to the world that Britain PLC is open for business.
My RHF the SoS has already laid out how this Bill represents a significant step forward in setting out the UK’s new trade policy as we prepare to leave the EU. It will grant us the vital legal powers necessary for the UK to establish an independent trade policy.
It is important for this House, and indeed the general public, to know the facts about this Bill. It is not a ministerial power grab and it does not pertain to any future trade agreements. Trade agreements will be a matter for future legislation later this year. This is important to understand in relation to this Bill.
This is essentially a procedural Bill, concerned with legal housekeeping and ensuring a smooth and orderly transition out of the EU. It is nonetheless, however, a vital legal building block as we embark on the process of operating an independent trade policy once again.
My constituency of Fareham is home to a plethora of ambitious, innovative and talented businesses specialising in areas as diverse as underwater robotics, to helicopter engines and the UK’s leading prestige Beauty Company. This Bill supports them by ensuring continuity in our trading relationships, helping those exporting and importing goods and services to confidently plan for the future.
Firstly, the provisions in the Bill that will enable the Government to negotiate independent membership of the Government Procurement Agreement will create great opportunities for this country. It will ensure that UK companies have fair access to government procurement contracts across 47 countries, amounting to £1.3 trillion worth of government contracts altogether.
Secondly, to avoid a situation in which the growth prospects of businesses in Fareham, and the economic prosperity of our country is damaged, we need to ensure – as far as possible – the smooth adoption of existing trade deals with third country trade partners. Which is rightly a key tenet of this Bill. This aspect of the Bill will grant powers to make regulations to implement the elements of trade agreements with third countries that have agreements with the EU before our exit date, dispelling fears in our business and investment community and allowing exporters and importers in Fareham – and indeed every corner of the UK – to continue to trade and grow.
Thirdly, it is right that this Bill will give the Government the power to apply trade remedies to counter anti-competitive trade practices, such as dumping or subsidies. The new independent body, the Trade Remedies Authority, set out in this Bill is also right to ensure we have the power, as an independent trading nation, to investigate reported cases of unfair trade practices and recommend any appropriate actions for Ministers to take in response, a process currently conducted by the European Commission on the UK’s behalf.
Fourthly, as an independent global facing nation standing on our own two feet we must ensure that the Department for International Trade has the data it needs to perform its functions and inform trade policy. As clause 7 and 8 of this Bill set out respectively, new data collection powers will enable the Government to build a clearer picture of UK exports; and will enable HMRC to share data with the DIT and other bodies carrying out public functions relating to trade.
As I mentioned before, this is a procedural Bill. It is about continuity in trade policy. It is about responsible Government and policymaking. As we leave the EU – avoiding a cliff edge in our relationships with our existing trade partners must be a priority. It is fundamentally about providing continuity and stability for businesses and consumers, and to this end is a practical piece of legislation.
As the Trade Bill gets its Second Reading today, we have rightly heard many members talk about our future as a global, free-trading nation. This is absolutely as it should be.
There is a big world out there which, if we are to fully understand the great opportunities of Brexit, we need to embrace with self-confidence and gusto.
To realise this, we need to secure the freest possible, positive trading relationship with the EU. We also need to be highly ambitious in the trade deals we strike with the rest of the world. This duality in our approach is vital. But we need the legal foundations, manifested in this Bill and the Customs Bill, to ensure we are prepared on day one of Brexit and can open ourselves to the opportunities that will present themselves. We must do all we can now not to erect any unnecessary trade barriers that will be harmful to businesses and consumers.