Farmers demand clear answers from government over Trade Bill concerns

PUBLISHED: 08:34 20 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:24 20 May 2020

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters has urged the region's MPs to speak up for farming as the Trade Bill returns to the Commons. Picture: Sonya Duncan

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters has urged the region's MPs to speak up for farming as the Trade Bill returns to the Commons. Picture: Sonya Duncan


Farming leaders have demanded answers on how the government intends to honour its manifesto pledge not to undermine Britain’s high environmental and animal welfare standards in future trade deals.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters has written to all regional MPs asking them to speak up for farming during today’s second reading of the Trade Bill in the House of Commons.

Industry leaders are lobbying for a trade policy that safeguards British food producers from the threat of competition from cheap food imports, produced to lower standards than would be legal here.

It follows last week’s debate on the Agriculture Bill, which provoked an angry reaction from farmers in East Anglia after a majority of MPs voted against an amendment which would have guaranteed that the UK’s high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards would have to be met by any imported produce entering the country under post-Brexit trade deals.

Defra ministers argued that the amendment could compromise future trade negotiations, and was unnecessary as all EU import standards will be converted into domestic law by the end of the December 2020 transition period.

But the NFU said the return of the Trade Bill to the Commons provides another “timely opportunity” for MPs to press ministers for detail on how they intend to stick to pledges not to undermine domestic farmers while negotiating deals around the world.

The NFU is also pushing for the creation of trade, food and farming standards commission – a body which would review policy and develop solutions to promote free trade while holding all food imports to the UK’s high food standards.

READ MORE: MPs ‘missed opportunity’ to secure vital safeguards for food standards, say farmers

Ms Batters said: “We need a trade policy that safeguards our farmers and British food production from the damaging impact of importing food that would be illegal to produce here. Failure to do this would undermine our values of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety, all of which are incredibly important to the public.

“Last week we heard MPs say that the standards of imported food was an issue for the Trade Bill rather than the Agriculture Bill. With this in mind, I hope to see it fully addressed today. I would also like to know why the government has not yet established a trade and standards commission. It would be an eminently sensible approach aimed at addressing the many complex challenges in ensuring our high production standards are safeguarded within our future trade policy.

“These are issues that cannot be wished away or presumed dealt with by brief pledges in a manifesto or verbal assurances in media interviews.

READ MORE: US trade offers ‘huge opportunity for all farmers’, says Norfolk MP and trade minister

“So I ask all MPs to speak up for British farming today; ask for a commission that will protect the UK’s food values from sub-standard imports and ask for more parliamentary scrutiny over future trade deals.

“We are at a make or break moment for British farming. We have the chance to become a global leader in climate-friendly farming, and neither farmers nor the public want to see that ambition fall by the wayside because our trade policy does not hold food imports to the same standards as are expected of our own farmers.”

A government spokesman said: “The UK is renowned for its high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. And we will safeguard our agriculture sector – we’ve just announced a tariff policy which maintains tariffs on key agricultural products such as lamb, beef, and poultry.

“We have been clear that in all of our trade negotiations – including with the US in our first round of negotiations – that we will not undermine our high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards by ensuring in any agreement British farmers are always able to compete.”

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