The Trade and Agriculture Commission, a new independent body set up in July 2020 to advise the Government on how best to advance the interests of British farmers, food producers and consumers in future trade agreements has published its report.
Views were widely sought on how to ensure a competitive farming sector whilst providing sustainably produced affordable food.
Principles of UK trade policy
The report sets out a vision of the future success the UK government should aim for when developing and deploying a trade strategy and sets out six principles as a guide.
Promote the liberalisation of trade.
Prioritise a thriving domestic agri-food sector supported by complementary domestic and trade policies.
Ensure that agri-food imports meet relevant UK and international standards on food safety and biosecurity.
Match tariff-free market access to relevant climate, environment, animal welfare and ethical standards.
Lead change, where needed, to the international framework of rules on trade and relevant standards, to address the global challenges of climate change and environmental degradation.
Support developing countries in accessing the full benefits of the global trading system.
Recommendations for action
The report then sets out a series of 22 recommendations for action in five areas.
A bold ambitious agri-food trade strategy should provide a framework of priorities for future trade negotiations. It should be based on a liberalising approach to trade policy, focused on bringing new opportunities for UK business, tempered with safeguarding of important environmental and animal welfare standards. The UK should adopt an approach to imports which would align with its overall approach to trade liberalisation and seek to lower tariffs and quotas to zero within trade agreements over a reasonable time period. This would be contingent on imports meeting the high standards of food production expected from UK producers.
The UK should show strong international leadership particularly in terms of action to resolve the climate crisis. For global trade to flourish in the future it must be made more sustainable and resilient to external shocks. The UK must leverage international forums and work with international partners to raise climate and environmental standards.
The UK government should continue to strengthen its approach to the negotiation of free trade agreements (FTAs) and develop effective approaches to scrutiny and analysis of FTAs.
More energy and resource should go into export promotion, market access and marketing. These are critical pre-requisites for growing UK agri-food exports beyond the negotiation of trade agreements. Government and industry should collaborate to make a greater collective impact. Government can use its political leverage to open doors and businesses can build the supply chains and networks to trade.
Trade, aid and climate policies relating to agri-food should be aligned. These policies must work together to strengthen relationships with developing countries over time, to diversify our food supply, support our food security goals and support the economic prosperity of those nations.
In summary the report says UK trade policy must be ambitious and the focus must be on long-term gains. There should be a strong ambition to play a leading role in international agricultural and food issues.
NFU President Minette Batters welcomed the report saying: “There are many good recommendations in the report that the government should adopt, in particular the need for a coherent and explicit trade strategy encompassing both Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and general trade policy, an approach to imports that has our high standards of production at its core, and a Food and Drink Exports Council to foster a collaborative and targeted approach to growing markets overseas”.