A cross-party parliamentary inquiry begins today on the impact the government’s post-Brexit trade policy has had - and will have - on food producers, consumers and businesses in the UK.
Since leaving the EU, the government has signed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Australia and New Zealand. It has also either signed or is negotiating further agreements with the free trading bloc known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canada, the Gulf Cooperation Council (a grouping of six middle eastern countries headquartered in Saudi Arabia) and India.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is launching its inquiry, UK trade policy: food and agriculture to:
· assess the strategic and economic coherence of the government’s approach to international trade;
· weigh the positive and negative impacts of agreements made so far and the opportunities and risks of those to come;
· explore the role trade policy should play in protecting and improving standards for food, animal welfare and environmental protections; and
· consider the impact government trade policy has had, and will potentially have, on the security, quality and affordability of the UK’s food supply.
Further background to the inquiry and its full terms of reference are below.
Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border, veterinarian and Member of the EFRA Select Committee, said:
“As the UK looks to sign further international trade deals, our cross party EFRA Committee has launched a wide-ranging inquiry into these negotiations and the impacts that they will have on our agricultural sectors. The deals offer significant opportunities for UK producers but it is vital that our producers are protected and our high animal welfare and environmental standards are upheld in these deals.
“I pushed hard on these issues in the previous deals , and we were able to secure animal welfare safeguards in chapters in the deals, and with campaigners like the NFU, we were able to secure stronger oversight by the Trade and Agriculture Commission. There is a huge opportunity for the UK to be a beacon to the rest of the world and drive up animal welfare standards globally through positive and strong diplomacy.”
The Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill, said:
“In principle free trade is a positive thing – it’s a rising tide that floats all vessels.
“But it’s also important to be cautious. We need to balance the advantages of agreements against their disadvantages, particularly when it comes to agriculture and food.
“We need to look into how a particular deal might affect consumers, farmers and food processors. And we need to be aware of how the various deals interact with each other – what their cumulative impact is on the food and farming sector”.
Background to the inquiry
Following its departure from the European Union, the UK has signed FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. The UK has also acceded to the free trading bloc known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations are ongoing for further FTAs with Canada, India and the Gulf Cooperation Council. This inquiry will investigate the opportunities and challenges that these FTAs will present for UK food and agricultural supply chains.
The new inquiry follows a report by the EFRA Committee into the impact of the Australia FTA on food and agriculture which was published in 2022. The report on the Australia deal recommended that the government should formally commit to upholding animal welfare and environmental standards in all post-Brexit trade deals. It quoted an adviser to the government, Henry Dimbleby, as saying that a failure to adopt a ‘core standards’ approach to animal welfare and the environment, while negotiating free trade agreements, poses a danger of “exporting cruelty and carbon emissions abroad”.
The new inquiry will seek clarity on the consistency of the UK’s agri-food trade strategy. It will investigate the cumulative impact of various trade deals on the sector and what support is available to food producers where lower import taxes, or tariffs, apply on food imports.
How you can contribute
The Committee is inviting written submissions to the inquiry from people in the various parts of the sector as well as experts, academics and others with experience in the area. Written submissions do not have to cover every aspect of the terms of reference – your area of expertise is what we want to learn from. The deadline for written submissions is midnight on 28 July 2023.
For advice on how to submit your evidence, and how we then use that information, please click here.
The committee will also gather information by inviting witnesses to oral evidence sessions, usually held in Parliament’s Committee Rooms. Most evidence sessions are held in public, are announced in advance, and can be watched on parliamentlive.tv
Terms of reference for the inquiry
The Committee is seeking views in the following areas:
Agri-food strategy and oversight
1. How coherent and effective is the UK’s trade strategy for food and agriculture? Is the Government taking account of the potential cumulative impact of new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)?
2. To what extent has UK trade policy provided benefits to the agricultural and food sectors compared to (1) other sectors of the economy and (2) its international counterparts?
3. What impact could recent machinery of Government changes, notably the dissolution of the Department for International Trade and its correspondent select committee, have on the development of food and agriculture-related trade strategy and policy and how should any potentially negative effects be addressed?
4. How could FTA scrutiny and consultation (such as through impact assessment, Parliamentary scrutiny, stakeholder consultation, and the Trade and Agriculture Commission) be improved?
5. Are the UK Government's trade policy objectives consistent with those of the devolved Administrations, and has it taken those objectives adequately into account?
6. To what extent has the UK exploited potential opportunities for trade in the food and agricultural sectors since its departure from the EU?
Free Trade Agreements
7. What impact have FTAs signed since the UK’s departure from the EU, such as those with Australia and New Zealand, had on the agri-food sector? Have opportunities or concerns arising from those agreements been realised?
8. What impact will the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have (1) on the agri-food sector and (2) future FTAs?
9. What approach should the Government take to food and agriculture sector priorities and concerns in its ongoing negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council, Canada and India?
10. Should potential new FTAs with specific countries or organisations be prioritised for agri-food reasons and why?
Standards and welfare
11. Is the Government’s approach to agri-food trade aligned with its commitment to high standards for health (including plant and animal health), food safety, animal welfare, environmental protection and climate change, human rights and the UK’s right to regulate in these areas?
Impact on food supply
12. What impact has the Government’s approach to trade policy had on the security, quality and affordability of the UK’s food supply?
Support for businesses
13. Is the Government providing sufficient support and guidance for agricultural and food exporters and importers, and how could that support be improved?
14. How effectively is the Government engaging with industry stakeholders and to what extent is it tackling non-tariff and technical barriers to trade for UK businesses?