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Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.
Maddisons Cafe, Front Street, Consett
In the year I was born, 1985, Consett had unemployment of 35 per cent – multiples of the average across the country.
The decline and, finally, the end of heavy industry and mining in the hands of a few, nationalised employers, poor management and poorly led, often over-politicised unions brought down the industrial North – and the demise of these industries decimated communities that had been reliant for generations on an increasingly small number of large employers.
By the time of the last election, employment in North West Durham had recovered to around the national average. A significant part of that is down to Nissan and its supply chain in the region.
This is why the agreement that Liz Truss has signed with Japan last week provides a very much-needed good news at a very difficult time, particularly for North East England but, more widely, for the whole country.
Trade deal signings come with plenty of fanfare and diplomatic niceties. But, beneath the pageantry, these agreements are a fundamental catalyst for delivering growth and investment of the type that we will need to ensure that our economy recovers from Coronavirus. This is especially the case for places in the Blue Wall, including my constituency in North West Durham.
The Prime Minister was right when he said trade can help us build back better, and make Britain a leader in modern areas like the green economy, high-tech manufacturing and technology.
The Japan deal is proof that we can strike good trade deals for Britain, despite the derision of arch-Remainers. Britain is out there and we’re winning.
It proves we can go further and faster than the EU in such areas as digital and technology, including enabling the free flow of data, a commitment to uphold the principles of net neutrality and a ban on data localisation that will prevent British businesses from having the extra cost of setting up servers in Japan.
The agreement also goes much further than the EU deal in terms of food and drink. We have secured a deal which benefits our farmers and fishermen as British meats, cheese, and fish will face lower tariffs in Japan.
It also contains over 70 geographical indications – compared to seven under the EU deal – that will mean iconic British products from all over the UK such as Melton Mowbray Pork Pies, Cornish Pasties, Welsh Lamb, Scottish Salmon, and Wensleydale Cheese receive legal protection from cheap imitations in Japan.
It helps provide critical continuity for businesses and secures many thousands of British jobs, not least those at the Nissan plant down the road, where many of my constituents’ work and which I recently visited with the International Trade Secretary.
And the Japan deal is just the start.
It is a signal not only of our capability as an independent trading nation, but also of our intent to strike great deals around the world and move well beyond the EU – particularly with Commonwealth countries and parts of the wider Pacific.
British industry, innovation and intellectual leadership shaped the world of international commerce that we recognise today. The work of Smith, Ferguson, Cobden and political giants like Robert Peel established Britain as the world’s pre-eminent trading nation, and set the stage for the creation of the international rules-based system a century later.
This Government’s ambition is to reconnect with that heritage, and re-establish Britain as a pre-eminent global trading nation that looks well beyond its own shores.
Leaving the EU gives us the chance to do that, and to lead the world in areas like the green economy (with hydrogen set to play a major role down the road in Teesside) services and technology.
The Japan deal is an important staging post in that journey. As well as driving economic growth across the country, it paves the way for us to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), one of the world’s largest free trade areas, covering 13 per cent of the global economy (and growing), comprising 11 major Pacific nations.
Membership of CPTPP is vital to our future interests and vision for Global Britain and, more broadly, we must decrease our reliance on large dictatorships whose ‘actions short of war’ – like intellectual property theft and cyber warfare – leave us under permanent attack.
By joining a high standards agreement with countries who play by the rules, we will strengthen the global consensus for free and fair trade at a time of heightened global uncertainty and rising protectionism – keeping markets open and trade flowing. Increased trade and connections with such countries is vital not only in economic terms, but also in geo-political and strategic terms.
Diversifying our trade and supply chains will also help our economy become more resilient to future shocks, and put us in a stronger position to reshape global trading rules alongside like-minded allies, including old friends such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia.
Strategically, this diversification is an exciting part of the Government’s plan to put Britain at the centre of a network of modern free trade deals, making us a hub for services, technology and cutting-edge manufacturing and green technology.
Ultimately, CPTPP membership delivers gains that would be impossible as part of the EU. And do so in a way that doesn’t impinge on our sovereignty. There is no ECJ, no harmonisation of domestic regulation and no ceding of sovereign powers.
All of this matters. Trade – and the notion of Global Britain – can seem divorced from the everyday worries and priorities of people here at home. But at its heart, trade is a powerful way to deliver the things people really care about.
It means more opportunities for local people, higher-skilled jobs, better standards of living, and happier, wealthier, more vibrant local communities in places like North West Durham, building on relationships abroad, as with Japan, to deliver local jobs so that we never again return to the bad old days of decay and decline that ultimately cost jobs and communities.
Liz Truss, who I recently spent time with on the production line at Sunderland, and the Government are working hard to secure CPTPP accession, and am pleased to see that a lot of the groundwork has been laid already – including exploring membership with all eleven countries in line with the official process.
Britain is at its best when it is an optimistic, outward-looking nation that engages with the world. CPTPP membership is the next logical step in the fulfilment of that vision.
It will show the world we are back as an independent trading nation and that we are not only a major force in global trade, but a major force for good across the globe.