Trade & Agriculture Commission sets out framework for post-Brexit trade policy

The Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) has published it recommendations for the UK government’s post-Brexit trade policy this month. 

The TAC hopes their report will provide a framework to fashion future policy.  The role of the TAC, made up of independent food, farming and environmental experts from across the UK, will be next to advise the government on the impact of any future trade deals before they can be ratified by way of reports that will be laid before parliament.  Politicians will then have 21 days to scrutinise, debate and vote on the findings before any deals are approved by parliament..   

The main thrust of the report is towards a liberal tariff free approach to international trade where standards are of an equivalent level.

Principles

This may be best illustrated by the principles the report promotes, as follows:

 The UK should aim to:

  • promote the liberalisation of trade, to positively influence innovation and productivity, and price and choice for consumers
  • prioritise a thriving domestic agri-food sector supported by complementary domestic and trade policies
  • ensure that agri-food imports meet relevant UK and international standards on food safety and biosecurity
  • match tariff-free market access to relevant climate, environment, animal welfare and ethical standards, remedying competition issues arising where permitted imports do not meet relevant UK and international standards
  • lead change, where needed, to the international framework of rules on trade and relevant standards, to address the global challenges of climate change and environmental degradation
  • support developing countries in accessing the full benefits of the global trading system

Recommendations

Overall the TAC has made 22 recommendations to the UK government on post-Brexit trade policy.  

The most pivotal of which is:

The UK government should take an ambitious approach to the liberalisation of the UK’s import tariff regime, for countries that can meet the high standards of food production expected from UK producers. It should work with trading partners within future FTA negotiations to lower tariffs and quotas to zero where equivalence is demonstrated for these standards.’

On a governance level, the recommendations focussed around the following: ensuring a coherent approach across the devolved administrations, appointing a minister with specific responsibility to lead on agri-food trade, reduce friction points at the border and along the whole supply chain, widen the remit of the UK Export Certification Partnership (UKECP),  increase investment in knowledge and insight of overseas markets, invest in Food and Drink Export Council and a specialist agri-food export body, rapidly increase its overseas resourcing, place a greater focus on developing campaigns sensitive to the needs of UK nations and regions and promoting goods relevant to specific overseas markets.  It should also underpin closer collaboration between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), DIT and Defra on agri-food trade policy, regulation and other activity and ensure increased transparency in any trade agreements.

On a standards and ethics basis the recommendations focussed on the following;  climate change and environmental pressures to be integral to trade policy, show leadership in animal welfare standards, combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in compliance with the WHO Global Action Plan and prioritise ethical trading, with the suggestion of a ‘regular scorecard’ performance on exporting countries. Domestically, it is suggested enhancing support for the UK Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and calling on UK industry to ensure fair wages and conditions are being provided for seasonal workers.  As part of this a further recommendation was to build global coalitions to promote and protect labour rights of workers in key supply chains, focussing first on supply chains for bananas, rice, cocoa, coffee and tea.  The UK government should align its trade, aid and climate policies relating to agri-food. The UK government should adopt a bolder, more confident and less understated approach to working with like-minded countries or in pluri- or multilateral discussions, particularly supporting non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Modelling in assessments should go beyond trade flows and address wider consequences such as impact on UK food prices, such as health, welfare, biosecurity and environment. Additionally, public procurement should itself source from the UK, source sustainably and improve the transparency of the sourcing process.

Finally, it was recommended

‘The UK government and the food industry work together to improve country of origin information in the loose food, food service and out of home supply chains. This will respond to consumer appetite for more trust and transparency in those supply chains. This should form part of a broader agenda to support these supply chains as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.’

Summary

The main areas of recommendations are of interest due to the priorities they outline, a liberalisation of trade dependent upon equivalent standards alongside a promotion of UK’s own values, standards and products worldwide.

It was of particular interest to see the promotion of country of origin labelling and for this to be used to support domestic supply chains.

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