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The US Congress has a say on all trade deals – it’s only right our Parliament does too

Many Conservatives idolise the US and are desperate to do a trade deal with them, which is fine. But they should know Congress has a say on all US agreements, and the UK Parliament needs the same right, says Neil Parish, chairman of the Efra Committee.

It’s been another interesting few months since I penned my last column for Farmers Guardian in May.

 

We have stopped working from home and are now mostly back in Westminster. The Government was very keen to get Parliament up and running because there is so much key legislation to get through this year.

 

One of those key pieces of legislation is the Agriculture Bill, which you will all be keenly watching.

 

It is currently on its travels through the Lords after a rather eventful Commons Report Stage in which I led a rebellion against the Government on food standards.

 

New Clause 2 was, as you may know, voted down.

 

Scrutinise

 

It was intended to allow Parliament the ability to scrutinise the content of any trade deal, with reference to animal welfare, the environment and food standards.

 

It would also have legally prevented imports coming into this country that had not been produced to ‘equivalent’ high standards.

 

I am not against trade deals with the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as growth markets like Brazil.

 

Many of our brilliant farm businesses will be able to export products into these consumer markets far more easily.

 

But we must be careful to protect our own farmers who, as we know, produce to some of the highest standards in the world – at a cost.

 

Totemic

 

A recent National Farmers Union petition on this totemic issue reached 1 million signatures. I can tell you; trade standards have certainly not fallen off the political agenda.

 

After much hard work behind the scenes, I was pleased to see the announcement of a new Trade and Agriculture Commission this week.

 

This is a great first step to securing the future of UK farming.

 

It is something the NFU has been calling for over the last 18 months, and something which previous Defra Secretaries had signed up to.

 

It has been welcomed widely across the agricultural community and by animal welfare groups too.

 

Advisory

 

Instead of Defra though, the new Commission will be run out of the Department for International Trade, with an advisory role.

 

In my view, for this Commission to be properly effective, it must be set up quickly, have a properly independent chair, and be allowed to get on and do its vital work, without interference.

 

It would also, preferably, have a statutory underpinning, and I will be making this case to the Prime Minister, who I know wants to uphold our world-leading standards.

 

The Trade Bill, which is still in the Commons, is the perfect opportunity for the Government to get on the front foot, setting up the new Commission and supporting high standards in new trade deals.

 

Control

 

As we leave the EU and take back control of agriculture and trade policy, Parliament needs to be able to scrutinise the impact of these deals in full.

 

There are many Conservatives who idolise the US and want us to do a wide-ranging trade deal with them.

 

That’s fine.

 

But it is worth reminding everyone that the US Congress has a proper say on their trade deals – and our Parliament should have the same.

 

Neil can be found tweeting at @neil_parish

 

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