NFU submits initial views on Trade and Agriculture Commission

The news that the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) will be given a statuary footing to examine future trade agreements is very welcome and its work is already well underway to report on the critical issue of trade and food standards.

The NFU has submitted views on trade and standards to the newly-formed Trade and Agriculture Commission. NFU members can read our consultation response here.

EU exit and international trade adviser Emily Roads summarises the NFU response and the priorities for the agricultural sector:

Prior to the very welcome announcement that the TAC will be given the power to examine and report on future trade agreements signed between the UK and our international partners, the TAC launched a call for evidence on trade and standards.

Across six questions, the call for evidence looked at issues such as the needs of developing countries and consumers, how to improve the competitiveness of domestic producers in a global market, and how the UK can use its trade policy to advance global standards and meet domestic priorities.

The NFU has long been clear on the need for increased parliamentary scrutiny, which will be assisted by the TAC, as a vital mechanism for protecting domestic producers against imports which do not meet our standards and therefore have lower costs of production.

The work and findings of the TAC will have benefits across society, not only safeguarding our domestic standards and UK producers, but also ensuring consumers can be confident that their food meets their expectations, and helping to secure domestic food resilience, which the COVID-19 pandemic has shown to be vital.

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Ensuring that access to the UK market is achieved primarily through specific, high quality trade agreements will also benefit developing countries, by ensuring those with existing access are not displaced through extensive liberalisation, as well as supporting efforts to raise standards in order to secure access to the UK market. Protecting our standards could therefore also have global benefits, helping to raise agri-food standards abroad.

Policymakers should also recognise that our standards can be the key to unlocking new markets, with the UK’s high food safety, environmental and welfare standards globally recognised and trusted.

Reputation is key to achieving this. Efforts to develop new markets and seize new opportunities must be supported by proper investment in market development and support for businesses for access new markets. This is true not only of our speciality products but also major commodities: for example, markets for stilton must be developed alongside markets for milk. This work is not dependent on trade deals, as the recent lifting of the US ban on British beef demonstrates, and so work must be done to reduce trade barriers outside of trade negotiations too. Access to quality data and market monitoring systems will also be key to this.

Ultimately, the UK’s trade policy must be cohesive with wider policy ambitions, such as those outlined in the UK’s proposed future environmental and agricultural policies. If the UK is to be a global leader in environmentally friendly food production, net zero ambitions, ethical employment, and high animal welfare standards, we must ensure that this is represented across government, including in our trade policy.

The NFU response can be read in full here (NFU members will need to log in). 

Next steps: Our findings will form part of the evidence considered by the TAC ahead of an interim report expected shortly and a final first report expected in February 2021.

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