Labour accuses government of ‘fraud’ over Trade and Agriculture Commission
The Government has been accused of “perpetuating a fraud on British farming communities” after it emerged that the new Trade and Agriculture Commission will not be asked to assess the impact of new trade deals on the UK farming industry, despite repeated commitments by Ministers that it would.
On 1st November last year, the Government officially announced the role of the new statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission as follows:
“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. The move – part of the Government’s ambition to place farmers at the heart of its trade policy – will allow Parliamentarians access to independent and expert advice when reviewing the impact of each trade deal on farming.”
Subsequent statements by DEFRA Secretary George Eustice, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, and other ministers all asserted that the role of the TAC would be to give a voice to British farmers when new trade deals signed by the Government are being scrutinised.
But in a statement on the Department for International Trade’s website today, inviting expressions of interest from potential members of the Commission, Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said:
“The TAC’s role is specific and focused: it will look at the text of an FTA to see if the measures relating to trade in agricultural products have any implications for maintaining our domestic statutory protections – specifically those relating to animal and plant health, animal welfare and the environment – across the UK. The TAC will provide advice to me on this, which will be laid before Parliament.”
Emily Thornberry MP, Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary, said in response:
“Last Autumn, MPs had the chance to pass Labour’s amendments to the Trade and Agriculture Bills banning imports of agricultural products that did not meet the UK’s standards on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection, and would undermine the competitiveness of British farmers.
“The Government persuaded their backbenchers not to back those amendments on the basis of a promise that the Trade and Agriculture Commission would do the job instead, and be given the authority to tell Parliament if any future trade deals would be damaging for British farmers.
“But now the truth is clear. The Government has misled its own MPs and perpetuated a fraud on Britain’s farming communities. A hugely damaging deal is about to be struck with Australia, and the Commission which was supposed to act as the voice of British farmers will have nothing at all to say.”
Notes for editors
Below are further quotes from Ministers on the role of the TAC:
Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, November 1st: “By putting the TAC on a statutory footing, we are ensuring that the voices of our farmers, as well as those of consumers and key environmental and animal welfare groups, continue to be heard while we are in the process of scrutinising future trade deals.”
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, 1st November: “I am extending the TAC and putting it on a statutory footing to give farmers a stronger voice in British trade”.
Liz Truss, 6th November, to the NFU Conference in Wales: “We have no intention of ever striking a deal that doesn’t benefit farmers, but we have provided checks and balances in the form of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. That is an important reassurance as every deal is different.”.
Lord Gardiner, 9th November, debate on the Agriculture Bill: “The Government will keep working hard to support our farmers as we pursue new trade opportunities. Indeed, this is the core task of the Trade and Agriculture Commission that will be put on a statutory footing.”
Liz Truss, 25th November, to the House of Commons: “We will shortly be introducing an amendment to the Trade Bill, which will write the role of our vital Trade and Agriculture Commission into law, again giving independent advice to Parliament on trade and agriculture.”
Minister of State for Trade Policy, Greg Hands, 26th November: “The TAC will ensure that public and industry interests are protected in Britain’s agriculture trade policy.”
Lord Grimstone, 7th December, presenting the amendments to the Trade Bill putting the TAC on a statutory footing: ”I believe that these amendments will help the UK safeguard our current standards of agricultural products, put British farming at the heart of our trade policy and ensure that our agricultural sector is among the most competitive and innovative in the world.”
Liz Truss, 15th April, in response to Emily Thornberry’s question asking her when the TAC would be established and if there would be any reduction in tariffs on imports from Australia and New Zealand that do not meet UK standards: “Part of the Trade Bill was the establishment of the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission. For every free trade agreement, it will produce a report on precisely the issues that the right hon. Lady outlines.”