The Government has failed to offer any firm assurances on protecting farm standards in its long-awaited response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) report, according to the NFU.
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has launched a new Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), as part of the Government’s response to the previous Commission’s recommendations. Chaired by Lorand Bartels, Professor of International Law, the new TAC will provide expert scrutiny of new trade deals once they reach the signature stage, helping ensure world-leading British agricultural standards are upheld.
The Government set out more detail on measures being introduced to support farmers, in response to the original TAC report’s recommendations, including a new cohort of international ‘agri-food attachés’ who will work around the world to promote export opportunities for UK farmers and producers, providing market intelligence and technical expertise.
There will also be a new Food and Drink Export Council to work in collaboration with industry and governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to promote exports from all parts of the UK, helping to level up the country.
The Government said its response ‘reconfirms that maintaining the UK’s high standards will be a red line in all our trade negotiations, with no compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards’. “Any deal we sign with other countries will include protections for the agriculture industry, and we have a range of tools to defend British farming against any unfair trading practices,” it said.
However, the report is noticeably lacking in any firm commitments in this direction. For example, under the animal welfare section, it says only:
“The government will consider the full range of mechanisms available to us, including at international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the WTO. The government proactively engages stakeholders through expert committees and other forums such as the Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) and the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission (SAWC).
“In talks with Australia, we secured ground-breaking animal welfare commitments which explicitly recognised the importance of high animal welfare standards, non-regression and cooperation between Australia and the UK in international forums.”
Farming and animal welfare organisations condemned lack of clarity in the response.
NFU President Minette Batters welcomed some ‘important commitments’ that have been made, particularly to provide greater resource to promote British food overseas as well as a positive commitment to review public procurement and country of origin information for out of home eating. She also welcomed the new TAC established, which more than one million people supported when they signed the NFU’s food standards petition.
But she added: “However, one of the key drivers for setting up the TAC in the first place was to find practical ways of safeguarding the high environmental and animal welfare standards of UK farmers. This response needed to move on from warm words to concrete commitments and practical and deliverable measures, which it has failed to do. Where is the commitment to establish a clear set of core standards on which to base our free trade agreements – something farmers and the British public alike want to see?
“We can’t overlook the fact that it’s taken more than six months for the government to respond, in which time two important free trade deals have been agreed in principle and which will impact on British farming significantly. 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 of our own farmers and desired by the public.
“The disconnect between the government’s domestic and trade policies is stark and needs bridging urgently.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “Although the government has committed to maintaining welfare standards in international trade deals, the lack of a specific animal welfare representative on the Trade & Agriculture Commission sounds alarm bells. The Government has failed to rule out imports of products to lower welfare standards and we have already seen when it comes to the trade off between protecting welfare and signing a trade deal, it is welfare that misses out.
“We fear the lack of a vet or animal welfare expert on the TAC shows the direction the Government wishes to take. Stating great commitments to animal welfare is good, but we fear there will be a rush to the bottom in trade agreements, as shown in the Australian deal.”
The new members of the TAC are:
· Robert Anderson
· Professor Lorand Bartels (Chair)
· Gracia Marin Duran
· Catherine McBride
· Jim Moseley
· Cedric Porter
· Meurig Raymond
· Kate Rowell
· Shanker Singham
· Sir Lockwood Smith
· Andrew Swift
· Nick Von Westenholz