The NFU has flagged the need for the government to publish a comprehensive agri-food strategy that helps ensure UK farmers are “match ready” for the increased competition they are likely to face.
The NFU also believes there should be an annual assessment of the impact, both positive and negative, of the UK's FTAs on domestic food production and consumption. This annual assessment will provide a clear picture of the cumulative impact of FTAs as they come into effect and allow the government to formulate domestic policy accordingly.
This would be a clear signal that food and farming are indeed at the heart of the government’s trade policy.
Production standards needed for agri-food imports
Since the referendum, the UK has agreed over 70 trade agreements, including many that were rolled over from when we were members of the EU, deals with Australia, New Zealand and has successfully joined CPTPP, the trading bloc comprising 11 Asia Pacific countries. One could plausibly describe the strategy as “get the deal done.”
Following the political upheaval of 2022, the government’s trade agenda does appear to have shifted for the better. Prime Minister Sunak’s “Open Letter to Farmers” sets out his ambition to “change the way we support farming in this country, including by ensuring British farming is at the heart of British trade.”
The Prime Minister’s commitments are the clearest articulation of the government’s trade strategy and the principles it will adhere to. Notably, it includes a commitment to use “where appropriate, permanent quotas to protect sensitive sectors,” “to “protect food standards” and “to uphold production standards.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's letter to farmers can be read here: Prime Minister writes to farmers ahead of food summit
Despite these commitments, the government is yet to launch a formal process of developing and establishing core production standards that apply to agri-food imports and would form the baseline for negotiators to uphold during trade talks.
Room for further industry-government collaboration
Meanwhile, the government’s export strategy, as set out in “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” has been more successfully articulated and demonstrated through numerous initiatives and commitments, including the appointment of an initial 11 Agri-food attaches in overseas markets (plus a further 5 announced in 2023), the establishment of a Food & Drink Export Council, joint industry/government initiatives such as DIT’s “Open Doors” which encouraged mentoring and the development of export academy events for the food and drink sector and continued support for the “Great” branding.
More engagement and co-operative working methods between industry and government will continue to help grow our exports. The NFU continue to call for the levy paid by farmers and processors to be match-funded by government to boost our activity in the promotion of our food exports to help bridge the gap that our key competitors have created in terms of brand awareness and business connections in key markets.
More accountability in parliament needed
Finally, we have flagged to Efra Committee members that the dissolution of a dedicated International Trade committee in the Commons will further erode Parliamentary scrutiny and give greater discretion to the government of the day to negotiate and conclude deals.
The NFU believes there are a number of measures that should be introduced to improve the government’s accountability to Parliament, including formal approval of the negotiating mandate before negotiations commence, a process of regular updates and consultations throughout the negotiations and a “yes/no” vote following debate once a finalised Treaty has been agreed by the UK government to decide whether that treaty as drafted should be ratified or not.
The full response from the NFU will be published on the Efra committee website in due course at: UK Parliament | Publications – Call for Evidence: UK trade policy: food and agriculture