The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) has given a cautious welcome to the decision to extend the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and place it on a statutory footing, describing it as a welcome step towards addressing concerns over substandard food imports.
The UK government announced on November 1 that it had decided to extend the commission past its previous fixed term and give it a more active role through a new legislative underpinning, to be reviewed every three years.
Under the new plans, the commission will produce a report on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of any free trade deal negotiated by the UK government after the end of the EU transition period, which will be laid in Parliament before the start of the 21-day scrutiny period under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.
The commission was originally set up in July 2020 to provide advice on trade policies the UK Government should adopt to secure opportunities for UK farmers, while ensuring the sector remains competitive and that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined, but was due to be disbanded at the end of the year.
FUW deputy President Ian Rickman said: “This change is certainly not the red line that farmers, environmentalists, animal rights campaigners and millions of members of the general public have lobbied to be introduced into the Agriculture Bill.
“However, it is a welcome step towards allowing better scrutiny of trade deals negotiated by the government in terms of their impact on animal welfare and agriculture.”
However, Mr Rickman said that the full wording of the Commission’s new terms of reference and its legislative role would need to be seen before the union could fully assess the degree to which the decision addresses major concerns.
“We are faced with the possibility that trade deals negotiated by the UK Government with other countries and trading blocs will allow food to be sold to UK consumers which is currently illegal. A number of those negotiations are well underway, for example with the USA, New Zealand and Australia.
“That food could be produced to environmental, animal health and social standards that are illegal in the UK.
“It remains to be seen whether the scope of the commission’s new role will extend to fully addressing these major concerns in terms of protecting our consumers and farmers from exposure to such produce.”
Mr Rickman said that concerns also exist in terms of the degree of scrutiny afforded by the Constitutional Reform and Governance (CRAG) Act.
“The decision to extend the role of the commission in such a way that complements the role of parliament in scrutinising trade deals under the terms of the CRAG Act is welcome, but concern remains in terms of the degree to which that Act genuinely allows Parliament to block a deal it believes goes against the nation’s interests.”
“We will therefore continue to lobby for what is in the interests of UK farmers and consumers, and habitats and animal welfare around the globe.”