I’ve seen a number of tweets from MPs and others regarding yesterday’s amendments to the Agriculture Bill – which sought to ensure British standards of production aren’t jeopardised by future trade policy - and why they didn’t feel they could support them 1/
It’s obviously fair to have concerns over the workability of the amendments, although in my view they were drafted quite carefully to avoid some of the criticisms that are being levelled at them 2/
And it was reassuring to see, even among those MPs who didn’t feel able to support the amendments, that there was widespread support for the principles behind them 3/
Nevertheless, in rejecting the amendments, the thrust of the government’s response is that farmers should just trust them on this one. But, in this instance, such verbal assurances are not enough – and here’s why: 4/
The UK government’s current trade policy (to the extend it can be discerned) is to lower barriers for agricultural imports, whether generally or via trade deals. Many of these potential extra imports will, in practice, be produced to lower and cheaper standards 5/
This is a problem both for British farmers, who operate under significant extra costs imposed in meeting high standards, and British consumers who want standards to be upheld in our trade policy ( https://campaigns.which.co.uk/trade-deals/ ) 6/
(As an aside, the argument that you can just leave this to consumer choice is riddled with problems – e.g. difficulties in communicating info on production methods, cognitive biases like “hyperbolic discounting”, amount of food not bought in shops, etc) 7/
But, outside of any trade deals, other than to protect human, animal or plant health here in the UK, the government doesn’t have the power to restrict sub-standard imports…so not on the basis of production methods. Pointing importers to a manifesto commitment won’t work 8/
Turning to trade deals, restrictions based on production methods could be negotiated. But this is very rare in trade deals. And faced with some of the biggest agricultural producers fronted by some of the toughest trade negotiators in the world – very, very difficult to secure 9/
So what farmers wanted to know yesterday was this: how, precisely, will the government achieve its commitments on standards in law and in practice? But in rejecting the amendments, neither the government nor MPs set out an alternative approach. 10/
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