Vicki Hird, Head of Farm Policy at Sustain, has warned that new government concessions on the Trade and Agriculture Commission are too weak to give MPs a real say over future trade deals and that won't save food standards. She spoke to Farming Today (3 Nov) ahead of the Agriculture Bill returning to the Commons tonight (4 Nov) for a crunch vote.
Anna Hill, interviewer:
Trade deals are at the top of the agriculture agenda and after much pressure DEFRA has announced that it’s going to keep the Trade and Agriculture Commission for longer than its initial six month period and it will give it new legislative underpinning, it says.
The Commission will now produce a report on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each Free Trade Deal that the Government signs after the end of the EU transition period on Jan 1st 2021. Those reports containing expert and independent advice will be made available to MPs three weeks before any vote is taken on the trade deal in parliament. How much difference will this change make? Vicki Hird is from Sustain which has been campaigning for stronger legal protection against lower standard food imports.
Basically looking at what we can see so far, these changes will allow MPs to have greater scrutiny, have more detail to look at in terms of what’s in the deals but it’s after the deals have been done, and before they’re ratified so it doesn’t give them a lot of time, but they’ll have more detail.
And they’ll have that 3 weeks before the vote is taken. So is it possible that some MPs might look and say 'Well actually, looking at the detail, I’m not going to vote for it or am going to vote for it."
They’ll have a more informed choice. Whether they’ll really be able to not ratify it, it’s very rare that a deal isn’t ratified as loads of things have been done to get to that point. But in theory they could, but they have very little chance to vote bills out once they’ve been signed.
So is it meaningless then?
It will help provide more parliamentary scrutiny and build up understanding of the implications of us doing deals with other countries that may have different and lower standards to us. But as it stands it’s not a great step forward.
These changes, as you say, come after the trade deal has been organised? Will it protect farmers from cheaper, lower standard imports.
We think these changes won’t because what they do is strengthen the scrutiny but don’t provide any means of changing the deals before they’re signed, having an input into the trade policy, and, they don’t, most importantly, don’t set those standards on a legal footing, so they’re red lines for our negotiators before they go into a negotiation.
So are you saying that the TAC is not really any different from what it was before?
No and we’re also worried that it might not be different because it’s providing them with the information they’re going to get this time round, but also we don’t know whether the membership of the commission will be different. We felt there were some really big gaps in terms of expertise on environment and animal welfare. And there’s no information to say that is going to change.
The Ag Bill comes back to the House of Commons on Weds after it was amended in the Lords. There are two amendments made in the Lords. Can you remind us?
The first amendment is called 16B and it was about having the duty of the Secretary of State to seek equivalence on agri-food standards in relation to future trade. 18b was the second amendment, was about scrutiny. What I suspect is that the second amendment will not be voted on as it will be superseded by the announcements this weekend..
But on 16b, the duty to seek equivalence, we think that will be voted on and we are putting a lot of pressure on and we think MPs should be voting for this amendment.
Published 4 Nov 2020
Sustainable farming policy: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.
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