Industry organisations – including Scotland Food & Drink, the National Farmers Union Scotland and Quality Meat Scotland – have signed an open letter to secretary of state Liz truss calling for greater scrutiny in trade deals, particularly in the UK/Australia free trade agreement.
While the organisations welcomed the trade policy in concept and the new opportunities it could provide, it called on the Government to not throw away the already established market the UK has with the EU.
However, they argued that trading agreements post-Brexit has made trading with the UK’s biggest export market costly, complex and high risk to supply to.
The letter also criticised the speed in which the UK/Australia trade deal was being pushed through, leaving little time for scrutiny, particularly in relation to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures.
“We recognise the UK Government’s desire to move quickly to create new opportunities with nations beyond the EU,” read the letter.
“However, we are concerned that the pace of these negotiations, particularly the Free Trade Agreement with Australia, is too quick and denying the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny and consultation.”
The letter identified three issues with the trade agreement that it wanted to see addressed as a matter of urgency.
First, it asked that a more rigorous and meaningful process of engagement and consultation to be established with the industry around all free trade agreements, starting immediately with Australia.
Trade and Agriculture commission report
Next, it urged Government to publish its response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report and more quickly to implement its recommendations, particularly in relation to putting it on a statutory footing.
Finally, it called for a rigorous assessment of the cumulative impact of all the Free Trade Agreements that you are seeking to negotiate, with a particular focus on Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
The letter also made clear the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the UK’s agrifood industry, which would be further compounded by the challenge of adapting to the new trading arrangements with the EU.
“In addition, our producers who supply the UK market are already operating in one of the most competitive retail and foodservice markets anywhere in the world, with margins under considerable and constant pressure,” it continued.
“What we must therefore avoid is compounding these challenges further by creating irreparable intended and unintended consequences for our industry as a result of trade deals.”