Farming Minister Victoria Prentis has told the NFU she is ‘thinking long and hard’ about establishing a Trade and Standards Commission, just two weeks after publicly rejecting the idea at Cereals.
During a press briefing at the event, Ms Prentis told Farmers Guardian the Government did not believe it was necessary to set up a Commission because the Agri-Food Expert Trade Advisory Group (ETAG) – a body which cannot make policy recommendations and only meets for two hours a month – was already feeding into negotiations with other countries.
After FG’s report was published, NFU president Minette Batters said she had ‘quite a few strong words with Ministers and officials’, and believed they had ‘fallen on receptive ears’.
Speaking to journalists after the latest NFU Council meeting on June 22, she said: “What you might have heard in an interview is not the outcome I expect to see.
“There has been division between the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Defra. I felt where [Ms Prentis] had got to was a very close position with DIT, so they had come together, but in the DIT camp, and that is not acceptable to us.
“Every single thing she talked about and who could act on it, so where the Food Standards Agency could act, they were all food safety issues, not methods of production.
“She did not have an argument which could defeat my argument, and I think she went away, in her words, to ‘think long and hard about it’ and presumably find a way through this.”
The NFU has said the Commission should be charged with producing a report which contains, among other things, the policies Government should adopt in order to ensure imports meet domestic standards and processes to allow overseas producers to demonstrate compliance with UK requirements.
Ms Batters said this issue would be ‘the defining moment for the Conservatives’, because it is about the ‘values which underpin a global Britain’.
She also claimed Henry Dimbleby, who is heading up the UK Government’s National Food Strategy, ‘really seemed to grasp the need’ for a Commission.
“You need technical expertise to scrutinise and prepare what our ambition is going to look like,” she said.
“This is no different to any other independent trading nation. It is just very frustrating that the US is there with all its documents signed off, it absolutely knows what it wants for agriculture, and we are in a very weak negotiating position because we have not defined it.”