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Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Labour, Erith and Thamesmead 4:30 pm, 13th May 2020

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I served on Bill Committee and I have been contacted by a huge number of constituents, so I am enthusiastic about ensuring that the Government listen to the suggestions put forward by the people most affected by this Bill. There are huge insecurities throughout agriculture right now, with it anticipating new opportunities and challenges arising from leaving the European Union. Parliament is having to consider the Bill without knowing what those challenges will be and what our future relationships with other countries will look like. These insecurities have been highlighted by the sector for some time, and covid-19 means that the public have more recently been faced with these insecurities and the issues relating to the resilience of our domestic food supply chain. Closed restaurants, empty supermarket shelves and restrictions on imported food were issues that did not enter the public’s mind until just a few weeks ago. We should use the experience of this crisis to guide policy to build future resilience for our food and environmental security.

Many farmers and businesses in the agricultural sector will be facing unexpected financial hardship because of covid-19. Having witnessed the fragility of our domestic supply chain, we must ensure that the Bill includes provisions to support the domestic industry throughout the rest of the crisis. We must also consider practices our industry and consumers may be exposed to if our domestic industry cannot sustain the food supply following this and we have to look more to outside sources. With new trading agreements yet to be made, now we have the perfect opportunity to ban unfair trading and unethical practices. The Bill should ensure that food imports are produced to the equivalent environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards as those required of producers in the UK. The Government should also ensure transparency in our future supply chain, so that consumers are able to make ethical decisions for themselves and that the UK agriculture sector is prioritised over international imports. British farmers must not be subject to a system where they are undercut by food produced to lower standards and then imported into the UK. British consumers must not be subject to food with lower nutritional value, unaware of how their food was farmed.

This Bill has an opportunity to have a positive impact on farmers, business, the wider public and the environment if we get it right. That is why I was pleased to see so many contributions to the Bill Committee and why it is important that we include suggestions that will mean that the Bill has much more of a wider impact. The Ramblers, Britain’s largest walking charity, has asked that this Bill includes a requirement for landowners in receipt of public funds to fulfil their legal duty to keep public rights of way. I am supporting that suggestion from Ramblers, so that my constituents have the opportunity to explore nature and have access to a free way to stay active. That is just one way in which the Bill can support farmers to support the wider public. After two months of lockdown, I am sure that all Members from across the House, and the UK public, can appreciate the importance of access to nature and nutritional food. We have pulled together as a country throughout the crisis, and we should use this momentum to continue to support one another.

I am pleased to be able to speak on the Bill, to support workers in the agriculture industry, who are important but often overlooked keyworkers in the crisis. It is essential that a future trade agreement protects British farmers and consumers, and that is why I support Labour’s amendment. I hope that the Government have heard the important contributions we have heard, and take the opportunity today to legislate to protect the UK agriculture sector, and make use of our suggestions, which will have a positive impact on the wider public.