The Government has a golden opportunity to protect standards in the Agriculture Bill and it must be taken, say Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake MP and Llyr Gruffydd MS.
This week the House of Commons has another chance to support a series of amendments presented by the House of Lords that would significantly improve the Agriculture Bill.
These include protections for our food production standards and measures to increase parliamentary oversight of the UK’s trade negotiations.
Taken together, these amendments offer a golden opportunity to ensure that the future viability of Welsh agriculture cannot be undermined by trade deals.
Plaid Cymru are clear that we want to make the most of this opportunity to protect our farmers and an industry that is so crucial for Wales.
It remains to be seen whether our Conservative colleagues will follow suit, but given their previous voting record maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath.
The 2019-21 Agriculture Bill is a key piece of legislation, providing the legislative framework for the continuation of direct payments to farmers following the UK’s departure from the EU.
The extent to which support will depart from the CAP system differs across the UK; for Wales, the UK Bill provides for the continuation of Direct Payments to farmers after 2020 with powers to enable the Welsh Government to ‘simplify and improve’ Direct Payments.
These are transitional powers ahead of the introduction of a Welsh Agriculture Bill, expected in the Sixth Senedd, which will set out the precise details of the new Welsh agriculture policy.
However, of concern to Welsh farmers is the way in which the UK Agriculture Bill fails to establish a commitment or means to uphold UK agricultural production standards with regard to international trade deals.
There is unanimous support from opposition parties for amendments that would require any imported products to prove equivalent standards to our own, and which would ensure Parliament has a stronger role in scrutinising future trade deals.
Such amendments are key if we are to maintain a level playing field in terms of production standards between Welsh farmers and food imports.
It is simply unthinkable that we should expect our farmers to abide by our high animal health and environmental standards whilst also allowing products to be imported from countries that do not impose equivalent production standards on their farmers.
If a level playing field is not ensured, our farmers will be exposed to unfair competition, and their viability will be put in serious jeopardy.
Plaid Cymru has been resolute in our belief that the UK Agriculture Bill should safeguard the future prosperity of Welsh farmers in relation to trade negotiations.
After all, the Welsh Government has no formal part in UK trade negotiations, and although agriculture is an area of devolved responsibility, the UK Government can effectively undermine Welsh agriculture policy if trade deals allow for the importation of food products that are not produced to equivalent Welsh production standards.
We never voted for this, and so Conservative colleagues must reconsider their positions, and support amendments that would prevent such a tragedy.
Welsh agriculture has a gross output of around £1.5bn, farming in Wales underpins a food supply chain worth over £6bn, and over 223,000 people in Wales are employed in the agri-food sectors – it is Wales’ biggest employer.
In 2015, Welsh agriculture accounted for 4.07% of regional employment in Wales and a total gross value added of 0.71%.
These values are both greater than the UK average. Agriculture is a fundamental industry for Wales, and any negative impacts it could face would affect us all.
The UK Government has so far ignored concerns that the Bill risks exposing our farmers to unfair competition in future trade deals.
One thing is certain, Plaid Cymru will vote this week to champion Welsh farmers and safeguard the future prosperity of Welsh agriculture, even if we cannot count on our Conservative colleagues to do the same.