Defra Secretary George Eustice has shot down NFU hopes of beefing up the Trade Commission through an amendment to the Agriculture Bill.
The union worked closely with peer Lord Curry on a change to the legislation which would have set a legal obligation for the commission to scrutinise all future trade deals, instead of being disbanded around Christmas time.
It was passed by a majority of 107 in the House of Lords last month, and will return to the Commons for consideration on October 12.
In September, Mr Eustice rejected calls for the body to put on a statutory footing, but NFU president Minette Batters told attendees of a union fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference this week (October 5) that she was ‘hoping personally things were softening a bit’.
“I have had a lot of conversations with [Trade Secretary Liz Truss] recently and we have got another meeting this Thursday,” she said.
“I hope there is an opportunity to set the role of this commission on the statute books. We have our fingers crossed that Government will back it, but I know there is a challenge in getting this legislation through.”
Mr Eustice, however, was quick to dismiss any suggestion that the Government’s position would change, claiming Ministers would be ‘very unlikely’ to accept amendments to the Bill.
He did say Ms Truss was considering how the commission could have a more formal role in policy formation, but reiterated his earlier view that the body would have no legal responsibilities.
Other amendments passed by the Lords which the Government is likely to reject include one tabled by Lord Granchester, which would require all food imported as part of trade deals to match the UK’s standards.
Farming Minister Victoria Prentis has previously claimed such a move would threaten the UK’s food security, because it would prevent current imports from places such as the EU from entering the country.
She also said domestic legislation in this area would be unenforceable, because the UK would have no way to check conditions on farms elsewhere in the world, and suggested this kind of law would be open to challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).