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NPA calls for more active industry scrutiny of future trade deals

3rd Nov 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has called for more industry involvement in the scrutiny of future trade deals to ensure producers are not undermined.

ShipNPA chief executive Zoe Davies has just submitted the association’s response to a call for views by the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which was set up by Trade and Industry Secretary Liz Truss, following pressure from the NFU, backed by the NPA and other industry bodies.

The TAC was initially launched for a six-month period in July. Its original remit included advising Government on the trade polices it should adopt to secure opportunities for UK farmers, while ensuring the sector remains competitive and that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined.

In a move welcomed by the NPA and other industry bodies, Ms Truss announced at the weekend that the Commission’s role has been extended and placed on a full statutory footing, alongside rules giving parliament greater scrutiny of future trade deals.

It will produce a report on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each free trade deal the government signs after the end of the EU transition period on January 1. This report will be laid in Parliament, giving MPs and peers access to independent and expert advice when reviewing the impact of each trade deal on farming.

Unlevel playing field

In the NPA’s response to the Commission’s call for views, submitted prior to the recent announcement, Zoe highlighted how an ‘unlevel legislative playing field’ is still damaging the UK pig sector more than 20 years on.

“The sow stall ban resulted in the loss of half of our sow herd and whilst impressive productivity gains have been made, it has never recovered. Retailers who committed to support British pork at the time continued to flood the market with cheaper EU pork produced to standards that were illegal here. 

“Government stood by and watched and continued to allow EU pork to be sourced by all Departments through its own Government Buying Standards.

"We now import 60% of the pork that is eaten in the UK, primarily still from the EU where, although welfare standards have improved (they bought in a partial stall ban in 2013), other areas still fall short (most boars are still castrated and with no anaesthetic, whereas castration is not permitted under Red Tractor Farm Assurance in the UK).

“Understandably, the UK pig sector is still greatly mistrustful of both Government and the retail sector in terms of promises and public attestations made in support of UK agriculture.

“We have no intention of lowering our standards, which would ultimately risk our competitiveness. We must be resolute therefore, in our stance that no products produced to lower legislative standards than our own should be imported into the UK unless appropriately punitive tariffs or quotas are applied.”

Risk analyses

To help ensure there is sufficient scrutiny, the NPA believes that, as Government progresses with trade deals, it must provide a detailed risk analyses of each UK sector, set against different trade outcomes under the negotiations.

A number of analyses have already been compiled by Government Departments and by bodies such as the AHDB, modelling different scenarios against different UK trade policies. However, for each negotiation the NPA wants to see a ‘thorough assessment of the risk profile of each country is taken into account’.

“It is absolutely vital that business and trade associations should be consulted before and during trade negotiations,” the submission states.

“The NPA believes that the early ‘scene setting’ period is the most important, as DIT and other relevant departments such as Defra are able to factor in all of the possible offensive and defensive trade interests of each sector before going into negotiations.

“We believe it would be far less productive if Government asked for evidence of trade insights from businesses or trade associations during negotiations, as the opportunities may have already been lost.

“DIT should commit to providing sector specific engagement, either as roundtable events or informal consultations, as trade negotiations develop. Ideally, this would be done in conjunction with Defra, so that fully joined up trade policy can be pursued across all Departments and key business sectors.”

Active export approach

Citing the huge effort that went into securing export status to the lucrative Chinese market, the NPA also calls for a more proactive approach to finding new export markets.

The document states: “The UK needs to take a far more proactive and aggressive approach to developing trade deals around the world and to work with industry to ensure that viable targets are identified at the right time and a strategic plan subsequently developed.

“This requires significant investment, expertise and dedicated time and resource if it is to deliver.

“The needs of each potential trading partner and the end customer need to be fully understood which means that in-country resource and local knowledge is also vital to ensure success.”