Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill Contents


Future trade deals

30.As well as proposing a new support scheme for the delivery of public goods, the Agriculture Bill includes a clause that “provides the Secretary of State with the powers to ensure the UK’s compliance with its obligations under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)”.47 This is necessary because “payments made to agricultural producers during the agricultural transition and through any future public money for public goods schemes, would need to comply with the Agreement on Agriculture”.48 Clause 26 “intends to ensure that all support schemes are properly classified as amber, green or blue, and if they fall into the amber box, that they do not cause the UK to exceed its Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) limit”.49

31.The Agriculture Christian Fellowship considered that “the WTO is based on a view of food as being primarily a tradeable commodity” and that “any attempt to favour higher standards of environmental care, animal welfare or even food safety through trade policy is apt to be seen as ‘trade distortion’”.50 It warned that:

In the WTO world, farming incomes will take two hits, one from an ending of EU payments and the other from cheap imports. It is very doubtful if environmental payments, however well distributed, can compensate for both of these.51

32.In February 2018, we published our Report on Brexit: Trade in Food, in which we highlighted the UK’s international reputation for high animal welfare, environmental and food standards. We concluded that:

These must not be sacrificed on the altar of cheap imports. Doing so could undermine the premium British brand and might affect our ability to negotiate trade deals with other countries. We will hold the Secretary of State to his assurances that there will be no compromise on animal welfare, environmental and food standards.52

33.In response to this inquiry, Wildlife and Countryside Link explained the risks of compromising on import standards:

The import of poor quality produce with low animal welfare and environmental standards, as a result of international trade deals after we leave the EU, poses a fundamental risk to UK agriculture. Without safeguards against artificially cheap, low quality food, insufficiently scrutinised international trade deals could undercut British farmers and undermine domestic environmental progress in the UK by exporting degradation elsewhere, generating a race to the bottom in food production and safety standards.53

Similar concerns were expressed by the National Pig Association, Soil Association and RSPCA, among others.54 The National Farmers Union (NFU) wanted the bill to “ensure that British farmers can continue to produce food to the current high environmental and animal welfare standards of which they are proud whilst being able to compete on a level playing field with producers elsewhere in the world and without being undermined by cheaper imports produced to lower standards”.55

34.The NFU called on the Government to ensure that future trade deals always contain “provision to prevent agricultural products and food which does not meet our environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards from entering the country”.56 It considered that the Agriculture Bill “should contain provisions to require all food imported into the UK be produced to at least equivalent standards, as they relate to animal welfare, environmental protection and any other legitimate public policy concerns associated with food production, as those required of producers in the UK”.57 The NFU has proposed that the following clause be added to the Bill:

(1) The import of agri-food products into England is prohibited unless it can be demonstrated by the importer to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that the relevant products have been produced to standards that are equivalent to the relevant requirements under UK legislation in relation to–

a)animal welfare;

b)environmental protection; and

c)food safety.

(2) The Secretary of State must make regulations specifying the “relevant requirements under UK legislation” referred to in subsection (1).”

Explanatory statement: To ensure that agri-food products produced to lower standards are not imported into the UK, undermining the efficiency, productivity and profitability of the agricultural sector.58

35.In its response to our Report on The Future for food, farming and the environment, the Government stated “we will not water down our standards on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection as part of any future trade deals”.59 We asked the Minister whether the Government would endorse an amendment to the bill stipulating that domestic standards should apply to imports too. He responded that it was “out of the scope of the Agriculture Bill” and that it was “a legitimate argument to have in the context of the Trade Bill”, which is currently passing through the House of Lords.60 The Minister stated that “amendments have been put down to the current Trade Bill along those lines”.61 However, an amendment to the Trade Bill to ensure that trade agreements would maintain or enhance UK food standards was defeated in the bill committee in the Commons.62 George Dunn from the TFA was therefore concerned that “this is not a serious consideration for the Government” and that:

We hear the Secretary of State and others saying, “Over my dead body” and, “This is not going to happen. We are going to maintain our standards” but when it comes to putting the ink on the paper, we seem to fail every time.63

36.The Government should put its money where its mouth is and accept an amendment to the Agriculture Bill stipulating that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment. This is particularly necessary because similar amendments to the Trade Bill have, so far, been voted down. We suggest the following amendment:

To move the following Clause—

“Import of agricultural goods

(1) Agricultural goods may be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to—

a)animal welfare,

b)protection of the environment, and

c)food safety.

(2) “Agricultural goods”, for the purposes of this section, means

a)any livestock within the meaning of section 1(4),

b)any plants or seeds, within the meaning of section 15(6)

c)any product derived from livestock, plants or seeds.”

37.There has been disagreement between the UK Government and Scottish Government over whether the Bill legislates in areas of devolved competence, including with regards to Clause 26.64 We note that our counterparts on the Scottish Affairs Committee are currently holding an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on Scottish Agriculture.65 While respecting the delicate nature of the discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments over devolved competences, we hope that the Devolved Administrations would agree with the principle that food imports produced to lower standards should not be allowed under future trade deals.

47 Explanatory Notes to the Agriculture Bill [Bill 266 (2017–19) -EN], Clause 26, page 32

48 Explanatory Notes to the Agriculture Bill [Bill 266 (2017–19) -EN], Clause 26, pages 32–3

49 Explanatory Notes to the Agriculture Bill [Bill 266 (2017–19) -EN], Clause 26, page 33

50 Agriculture Christian Fellowship (SAB0011)

51 Agriculture Christian Fellowship (SAB0011)

52 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 2017–19, Brexit: Trade in food, HC 348, para 64

53 Wildlife and Countryside Link (SAB0045), para 27

54 National Pig Association (SAB0013) para 3.1; Soil Association (SAB0054), para 31; and RSPCA (SAB0009) para 15

55 National Farmers’ Union (SAB0068), para 13

56 National Farmers’ Union (SAB0068), para 14

57 National Farmers’ Union (SAB0068), para 15

58 Written evidence to the Agriculture Bill Committee (AB21)

59 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Twelfth Special Report of Session 2017–19, The future for food, farming and the environment: Government Response to the Committee’s Sixth Report, HC 1598, para 15

62 Trade Bill Committee, 30 January 2018, col 197

63 Q254 [George Dunn]

64 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, “UK Government Agriculture Bill - Scotland myth-buster”, 13 September 2018

65 Scottish Affairs Committee, “The future of Scottish agriculture post-Brexit inquiry”, accessed 15 November 2018

Published: 27 November 2018