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UK Trade and Agriculture Commission report divides opinion

The UK Trade and Agriculture Commission published its first full report calling for the liberalisation of trade and the protection of food standards, and industry experts are calling for more clarity about how farmers and food will be protected in the future with trade deals looming.

The commission was established in 2020 following a petition to protect British farmers from low-quality imports post-Brexit, with the aim that the body would advise on new trade deals.

The report has received mixed reviews from food bodies, farmers unions and sustainability experts. As reported in Speciality Food, NFU president Minette Batters welcomed the report for its efforts to “reconcile the complexities and tensions inherent in government trade policy” and commended the commission for setting out “a bold vision to manage those tensions”.

Minette said it was clear from the report that there is “a tough balance to be struck between doing trade deals on the one hand and safeguarding our high standards of food and farming on the other. This report dispels the notion that it is easy, which is the message UK farmers and the British public have too often been given”.

Listen to the Table Talk Podcast about UK food standards in a post-Brexit world

Vicki Hird, head of farming at Sustain, welcomed the emphasis on protecting standards and of undertaking strong impact assessments of possible trade deals, but she says the report prioritised trade liberalisation over other considerations.

“The report says that food that can’t show it is equivalent to our standards will not be permitted tariff free access. But that raises a number of questions about how and who will decide what is equivalent and will the government be committed enough to stand up to future trading partners on these issues?

“More than 2.6 million people signed petitions to protect food standards, such as bans on certain pesticides and use of hormones, and they will want clarity about whether the food on their plate is produced to the environmental and animal welfare standards they expect. We need clear red lines maintained.”

Kath Dalmeny of the Future British Standards Coalition also raised concerns about this: “In many cases global standards are lower than the UK’s. Big questions remain over who would decide what was equivalent, and how. We have been clear that tariffs are no substitute for clear blanket bans and that tariffs could be easily reduced or phased out over time, thus breaking the government’s promise of ‘no compromise’ on food standards.”

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