You may be aware that at present, the EU negotiates trade agreements on behalf of all 28 Member States – including the UK. There are currently almost 90 countries with whom we are discussing a trade agreement, or have signed a trade agreement through our membership of the EU. The UK is unable to sign any trade agreements of its own whilst it remains a Member of the EU, so we risk our membership of the largest Single Market in the world and our agreements with 90 countries for an uncertain future where we will have zero trade agreements on Day 1 of Brexit. That is why my SNP colleagues and I have stressed the importance of Scotland remaining in the Single Market, which supports thousands of jobs and gives our businesses access to the largest market in the world for trade.
You are right to highlight the impact of trade on developing countries. The EU currently has a well-defined Trade and Development policy, which outlines how the EU supports development as part of our trade with developing countries. This support includes almost €3bn in 2013 to help developing countries develop the things they need to compete and export around the world, like roads, bridges and ports. The EU’s trade policy also treats the least developed countries differently than bigger developing countries like China, by giving them better access – full free access to the EU markets. That gives the least developing countries more space to export to the EU than bigger, emerging economies – giving them a better chance to grow.
When the UK leaves the EU and becomes responsible for trade policy, I hope to see many of these positive aspects of the EU’s development policy copied into the UK policy. However, I am not encouraged by the UK Government’s track record on this matter. I am aware of reports that the UK Government had granted £30,000 to Malawi to develop its oil and gas industry, and that allegations have been made regarding UK Government lobbying for UK companies to benefit from oil and gas contracts. I am deeply concerned by these reports. Whilst part of international development aid is helping developing countries diversify their economies, we must ensure that is done ethically and that, in this instance, we are helping Malawi and not helping British companies exploit Malawi.