Thank you for contacting me about the Agriculture Bill, food standards and amendments tabled by the House of Lords.
First and foremost, I should say that two of the many reasons I supported the UK leaving the European Union are relevant here. The first is because I have great faith in UK farmers and their produce. The UK has exceptionally driven producers with very high standards. Brexit affords the UK not only the opportunity to devise a support system for UK farmers which does not fund their rivals in the EU, is reactive to their needs, and rewards good practices; it also creates opportunities for our producers to trade more widely if we are able to strike and agree good free trade agreements as well as smaller deals. Just last month the first British beef exports to the United States in over 20 years took place, and this is representative of the fantastic opportunities available to British farmers outside of the EU.
The second point is related to developing countries where some of the world’s poorest people are found. The UK has and does play a pivotal role in enabling producers in developing countries to expand their horizons, and trade is key to ending poverty and deprivation in so many developing nations. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy subsidises continental European farmers to produce food in quantities that we cannot eat and such heavily subsidised surpluses completely distort African and other markets, undercutting the prices of domestically produced food. This makes it impossible for impoverished African farmers to compete, and impossible for them to make a sustainable living which I believe is unjust.
Bearing these two points, I have examined the amendments tabled by the Lords and find them problematic. We all want to maintain our excellent food standards; it is what makes UK produce so appealing to global markets and it is the type of food domestic consumers wish to buy. That is why I welcomed the Government’s establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to oversee food standards rigorously and independently. However, the stipulations laid out in the Lords amendments create a potentially large set of new conditions that imports under trade agreements would have to meet. These are conditions that do not exist under any agreement the UK or EU has today, and it would be unlikely that trading partners would agree to all requirements and, in some cases, it might not even be possible for them to do so. As an example, it wouldn’t make sense to require trading partners with certain climates or environments to meet UK requirements on nitrate vulnerable zones, which are specifically adapted to UK conditions. We must drive a hard bargain for access to our market, but we have to recognise that the more new conditions these amendments place on UK imports, the larger the trade off against access for our agri-food products to the markets of our trading partners. These amendments therefore cast doubt on the benefits that any trade deal could secure for UK agri-food businesses.
Such amendments could most immediately disrupt negotiations on those trade agreements that we are seeking to roll-over, but have not yet ratified, and put at risk preferential terms for UK exports. In a worst-case scenario this could for example affect whisky exports to Canada worth £96m; potato exports to Egypt worth £30m; and milk powder exports to Algeria worth £21m in 2019 alone. In demanding the wide requirements set out in the amendments, we must therefore consider the cost that could come to not only these exports, but any future potential ones in our new agreements.
Ultimately, whilst the Deputy Speaker did not select Amendment 18 (improved Trade and Agriculture Commission), I will not support any amendment that would have such devastating consequences for the UK’s food supply and our ability to strike trade agreements which will benefit our producers.
Thank you for contacting me about this very important issue.
Sally-Ann Hart MP