Emily Thornberry – 2020 Speech on Trade with Japan

The speech made by Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, on 14 September 2020.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement and congratulate her on reaching this agreement. It is a much-needed relief for all those UK companies that would have seen their trade with Japan revert to World Trade Organisation terms if the agreement had not been reached by the end of the year. It is also a welcome benefit at a time of great economic uncertainty for the UK’s digital and tech sectors, and for other key exporters, which will benefit from greater access, faster tariff reductions or stronger geographical indication protections under this agreement than they enjoyed under the previous EU-Japan agreement. In the absence of a treaty text and a full updated impact assessment, there is much about the UK-Japan agreement that we still do not know and will not know until those documents are published. Nevertheless, I hope that the Secretary of State can answer some initial questions today.

First and foremost, will the Secretary of State tell us, in billions of pounds and percentages of growth, what benefits this agreement will produce for UK trade and GDP over and above the forecast benefits of simply rolling over the existing EU-Japan deal? I was glad to hear her refer to consultation with the farming sector. Can she tell us what benefits the sector will derive from this deal if the EU reaches its tariff rate quota limit for agricultural products, and how that will compare with the benefits that the sector was forecast to derive from the EU-Japan deal? Will she also tell us what the impact of Friday’s agreement will be on the UK aerospace sector relative to the impact of the EU-Japan deal?

Let me turn to three specific issues. Given that there has been lots of discussion about Stilton, can the Secretary of State tell us exactly how the treatment of Stilton differs under the deal that she has agreed compared with its existing treatment under the EU-Japan deal?

Given the current debate on state aid, can she confirm that the provisions on Government subsidies that she has agreed with Japan are more restrictive than the provisions in the EU-Canada deal, which No. 10 has said is the maximum it is prepared to accept in any UK trade deal with Brussels? On a similar subject, what provisions, if any, are included in the UK-Japan agreement relating to public procurement, and are they also consistent with the Government’s current negotiating position on an EU trade deal?

On the subject of Brexit, will the Secretary of State simply agree with me that, as welcome and necessary as this deal with Japan is, it is nothing like as important in terms of our global trade as reaching a deal to maintain free trade with the European Union? Our trade with Japan is worth 2.2% of our current global trade. That does not come anywhere near the 47% of trade that we have with Europe under the Government’s best-case scenario. The deal they signed on Friday will increase our trade with Japan by a little less than half in 15 years’ time. That is nothing compared with what we will lose in just four months if we do not get the deal with Europe that this Government have promised. That is why Nissan and every other Japanese company operating in Britain have told us that the deal that will determine the future of the investment and the jobs that they bring to our communities is not the one that we signed with Japan, but the one we sign with Europe.

I am glad that the Secretary of State has committed to a further debate on the agreement, given that there are many more questions to ask, but frankly there is no point in having that debate if Parliament does not have the right to vote. Will the Secretary of State guarantee today that once the treaty text and all the impact assessments have been published for proper scrutiny, she will bring the agreement back for a debate and vote, in Government time, just as will be done in the Japanese Parliament? It surely cannot be the case that this House will have less of a right to vote on a self-proclaimed historic deal agreed by the Secretary of State than will be enjoyed by our counterparts in Japan. May I ask her today to guarantee a vote, and to make it a precedent that will apply to all the other historic agreements she mentioned in her statement and that we hope are still to come?