The Trade and Agriculture Commission could allow Britain to lead the way in raising global standards, but it needs to be given the time and power to do so, says David Herbert, a South Welsh smallholder producing eggs and poultry.
This article comes to you scarcely a week before British farmers are set to see the outcome of the latest reading of the Agriculture Bill in parliament.
Due to go before the House of Commons on October 12, the Bill is being tabled with a fresh amendment, namely the Curry amendment, and we have learnt that the NFU and its president, Minette Batters has urged the Government to support this in full.
This amendment is essentially a tool to provide the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) with greater powers to scrutinise and analyse potential trade deals post-Brexit.
Now, the TAC has scarcely been in existence for any length of time, indeed they only held their inaugural meeting in July, and this commission has a fixed lifespan of a mere 6 months. So already questions arise about how they intend to operate in full and with all due effective speed, particularly as meetings and discussions have been somewhat curtailed by the Covid-19 situation.
International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, has already come under fire from those operating outside of the Conservative party for a perceived lack of opportunity to scrutinise future trade deals, but at the recent Conservative party conference she sought to allay fears by describing the process through which the TAC will operate.
There are essentially several stages which any deal must pass through:
This is a broad remit, and it means that any deal can be held off for an indefinite period of time. And, as previously mentioned, with the short life expectancy of the TAC these potential deals could be kicked into the long grass until the TAC has lost its position to try to expedite any reform, amendment or give guidance to MPs.
So the key aim of those trying to influence the standards and conditions by which we will trade is to have the Government pass the Curry amendment which would allow a second reading of any future trade deal at any point deemed necessary before it goes into its final stages.
And this is where the scrutiny comes into question.
There are questions regarding which particular experts will perform the analysis and from what field of expertise they originate. Will there be a health expert who will consider such things as advertising and promotion of trade products to the public?
Will there be strong engagement with the NFU and other groups with a vested interest in protecting the incredibly high standards of animal welfare and related socioeconomic factors connected to the farmers who produce these goods?
At this time we do not know who these industry experts are, and the current tariff offer from the USA is due to be shared with, as yet, unnamed advisory groups from a variety of sectors – all of which will be under non-disclosure agreements. Hence we can see why questions of transparency have arisen.
Ever since CRAG was introduced in 2010, no new international trade deal has had to pass through Parliament and the real test case will be the deal offered by Japan, with Canadian and Singaporean deals due to follow hot on its heels.
However, it should also be mentioned that the latter two are expected to essentially keep to the same sort of commitments and legislative requirements as are already covered by EU law.
So where does this put us in terms of some of the most talked about fears regarding agricultural deals that we have seen promulgated in the press?
Namely chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef from the USA and the potential for Fipronil contaminated eggs to reach us from Dutch shores.
The idea is that were such goods to be included or promoted in any trade deal, the independent body could firstly advise in the strongest possible terms and then encourage Parliament to veto or delay any such deal.
And I would actually hope that the lifespan of the TAC would be extended to help facilitate this.
This is where I feel Britain can truly lead the way in the negotiation of such deals.
I still have complete faith that our Government would not allow any relaxation of standards in terms of animal welfare or quality of produce. We are quite simply world leaders in this area and already have higher standards than those required by current EU legislation.
I just cannot fathom a scenario where we would go against these principles and take a step or two backwards merely to secure a trade deal with another economic entity at their behest.
Therefore, once again, as with so many of the Brexit negotiations and issues, we take a large leap into the unknown. But we should take this step with the same confidence and assurance that Neil Armstrong did when he left the lunar lander to put the first human footprint into the moon’s surface in 1969.
This is a small step for a man (or in this case a commissioned body), but a giant leap for mankind.
And it is from that position, looking at the planet and our nations with a holistic approach and the intention to further grow and develop our understanding that we should, as a country, firmly plant our Great British flag in the ground on October 12 and lay a marker by which all future deals and negotiations should be weighed against.
David can be found tweeting at @hermitcrabeggs