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NPA welcomes change of heart by Government on trade deal scrutiny

2nd Nov 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has welcomed the Government's decision to finally agree to new legislation to give farmers a stronger voice in UK trade policy.

Liz TrussAfter months of intensifying pressure from all angles, on Sunday, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss announced she is extending the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), and placing it on a full statutory footing

On Friday, the Government to table an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to bolster parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements.

This will place a duty on the Government to report to Parliament on whether, or to what extent, commitments in new Free Trade Agreements relating to agricultural goods are consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in relation to human, animal and plant life and health; animal welfare; and environmental protection.

In October, Lord Curry’s amendment to the Bill added in the House of Lords to strengthen the remit of the TAC and give parliament more scrutiny over future trade deals did not even make it to a vote. The amendment was promptly reinserted into the Bill in the House of Lords the following week.

The TAC was initially launched for a six-month period in July to bring together voices from across the sector and report back to inform top-level trade policy and negotiations.

Ms Truss said, as Britain prepares to put into statute the trade deal struck with Japan and moves closer to becoming a fully-fledged trading nation, the Government has decided to give it a more active role through a new legislative underpinning, to be reviewed every three years.

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 before the start of the 21-day scrutiny period under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.

The move will allow Parliamentarians access to independent and expert advice when reviewing the impact of each trade deal on farming.

NPA reaction 

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “This is a very significant development that will go a long way to ensuring that future trade deals do not pave the way for imports produced to standards that would not be permitted in the UK to come here.

“It is testament to the power of industry lobbying on an issue that has not only united UK farming interest, but also animal welfare and environmental organisations, the media and the British public. In the end, the Government had little choice but to act.”

Zoe described the Government’s failure last month to back an amendment added to the Agriculture Bill that would have added these extra scrutiny powers as a ‘missed opportunity to provide the necessary legal protection and assurance from government that our sector needs’.

The US has made it clear that it is not prepared to compromise in future trade deals on issues like the use of ractopamine in pigs and on sow stalls, which are still widely used in US pig production, but were banned in the UK in 1999. There are also vast differences in areas like environmental protection, piglet castration and antibiotic use.

Zoe said: “Following the UK sow stall ban, retailers continued to import large volumes of cheaper pork from the EU produced using sow stalls. The impact was catastrophic as UK producers were unable to compete and went out of business – the pig herd halved in size in just a few years.

“We now finally have some hope that the Government has learned from previous experience and will ensure that history is not repeated.”