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The coronavirus crisis should teach us about the importance of food security

When the coronavirus has been brought under control, politicians must take stock and recognise the importance of food security, says Robert Largan, Conservative MP for High Peak.

After three years of confusion and uncertainty over Brexit, the brief interlude of calm following the General Election already feels like a long time ago.

 

A few months ago, many were learning new words and phrases such as ‘prorogation’ and ‘Irish backstop’.

 

Now, we are learning newer, scarier phrases like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’.

 

The coronavirus pandemic has seen panic buying and a huge pressure on food supply chains.

 

When the current crisis has been tackled, it is important that we take stock and learn the lessons.

 

Importance

 

One of those lessons must be about the importance of food security.

 

Comments from an adviser earlier this year reportedly saying farming is ‘not important’ have dated very badly.

 

While agriculture and fisheries are only a small percentage of our economy, the last time I checked, they are the only parts that we can eat.

 

It’s not possible to talk about food security without talking about trade and food standards.

 

Negotiations for a permanent free trade deal with Brussels are ongoing.

 

Comprehensive

 

Given the size of the EU market for our meat exporters, it is very much in the interest of hill farmers in places like High Peak that we secure a comprehensive deal.

 

However, that deal must not come at the expense of our own sovereignty or our ability to negotiate new deals and open up new market opportunities in the rest of the world.

 

By being in the EU, trade policy has effectively been subcontracted to Brussels for the last few decades.

 

That leaves us at a disadvantage in two respects.

 

Memory

 

Firstly, there is little institutional memory in Whitehall when it comes to negotiating trade deals.

 

These are hugely complex agreements that cut across policy in a wide range of areas.

 

We are going up against countries with long experience of negotiating deals. It will be a very steep learning curve.

 

The Government has rightly taken big steps in addressing this with the creation of the Department for International Trade and bringing in successful trade negotiators from around the world, to build up a bank of experience to equip us for the task ahead.

 

Intricacies

 

The second big disadvantage is that politically, this country has not debated free trade and the intricacies of such deals in a long time.

 

Suddenly, issues like food standards are going to be thrust back into the spotlight in a big way.

 

There is a big debate coming on this issue.

 

In my view, it is vital that we do not compromise food standards or our food security in our trade negotiations.

 

Robert can be found tweeting at @robertlargan


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