Why do we have a Trade and Agriculture Commission?

Food standards commission_73782

The UK is negotiating trade deals with countries from around the world. The UK Government must make sure that those trade deals do not lead to an increase in food imports that would be illegal to produce here.

Specifically, this means that any imported food we eat should have the same high production standards, environmental standards and animal welfare standards that we have here in the UK.

To help achieve this goal a group of experts should work together to advise the government on the best way it can stick to its commitment of safeguarding the UK's high standards of food production.

Update 25 October 2021: As a result of the NFU led petition in 2020 that saw 1 million people say they want the food they eat that is imported, to be produced to high standards as British farmers produce to, the UK Government responded by creating a Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise on the best ways to maintain high food production standards in any future trade deals.

See what the previous Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss said about what the Commission will do.

The Trade and Agriculture Commission was established in September 2020, with a remit to report back to government with recommendations.  In March 2021 the commission reported back with recommendations including:

  • Commit to set out a core list of standards as recommended that would be safeguarded in all future trade deals
  • Set out approach to supporting high environmental and welfare standards at home and abroad through trade policy
  • Be transparent and respond to all the commission's recommendations

The UK Government published its response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission report in October 2021. The commission is designed to provide expert scrutiny on all new trade deals , helping to ensure world leading British agricultural standards are upheld.

The government response includes:

  1. Introduction of 'agri-food' attachés who will work around the world to promote export opportunities for UK farmers and producers
  2. Food and drink export Council created to promote food exports from all parts of the UK

The government has said that maintaining the UK’s high standards is a red line in all trade negotiations, with no compromise on high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards. However there is no commitment to establish a clear set of core standards on which to base new free trade agreements. NFU President Minette Batters said: "The government has missed the opportunity to make these new trade deals fit for the 21st century by ensuring food imports will meet the high animal welfare and environmental standards legally required by our own farmers and desired by the public."

What does the Trade and Agriculture Commission do?

The commission is made up of food, farming and environmental experts from across the UK, who advise the government on the impact of any future trade deals to ensure our high food production standards are not undermined. 

Why is this important?

The standard to which food is produced in Britain is set out in UK law, but we don't have any power over the laws in other countries. This is where the Trade and Agriculture Commission's role is so important as it can scrutinise any trade deals and make recommendations so that MPs can act before any deals are ratified.

But will the commission have any power?

Yes. Crucially, the government put the commission on a full statutory footing (ie in law), meaning that each trade deal must be subject to a report from the commission, giving British farmers a stronger voice in UK trade policy. 

Does that mean it is in the Agriculture Bill?

Yes. The legislation is included in both the Agriculture Act 2020 and the Trade Act 2021. 

Will this make any real difference?

Yes. The commission will make it abundantly clear where trade deals could be letting in food imports that would be produced to standards that would be illegal here. And even more importantly it offers some solutions to what is likely to be a very complex negotiating process for the UK government. The commission's findings will be made public. We must then trust the democratic process and elected representatives to back British farming.

Will the commission hamper our trade deals in any way?

No, quite the opposite. It allows parliament to properly scrutinise trade deals for both the opportunities and the risks. By defending British farmers and supply chains, it gives the UK government the opportunity to create trade deals that benefit British food producers, the public who value the food on their plates, our animals, the environment and the wider UK economy.

Is there anything more we need to do?

Yes. This issue is far from over; dozens of trade deals are set to be struck in the coming months and years.

We need you to keep highlighting the importance of high food standards and to help MPs understand how much we all care about the food on our plates and countryside we all treasure.

To keep up to date with our ongoing campaigns become a Back British Farming supporter today.

Related categories: Back British Farming

Last edited: 26 October 2021 at 13:59

Have your say

Anne Rossiter - 01/07/2020 16:31:11

It is very important to me and my family that we have good food which is safe to eat and is of very high standard. The conditions where the animals are reared also of utmost important as in the EU. Labelling is very important too so we know where our food comes from. This is vital for our country's health and longevity.

Chrys Brown - 30/06/2020 17:22:03

Well done so far NFU. Unfortunately our family do not trust this Government and are worried that a deal has already been done. History tells us that often one way a government has of ‘kicking a topic into the long grass’ is to instigate a commission which often takes years to come to a conclusion which is not legally binding.

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