Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Robbie Moore Robbie Moore Conservative, Keighley 3:30 pm, 13th May 2020

Before I begin, may I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests? The Agriculture Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape our farming sector for the better. I would like to spend the short time that I have discussing the proposed amendments on food imports and standards. I have given immense thought to these amendments over the last few days, but I have also been thinking back to just a few years ago when I was lucky enough to travel across the globe undertaking a research project specifically looking at the global ag sector, and the one thing that came across to me loud and clear above all else was just how small a dot the UK is considered to be by others on the world stage when it comes to influencing the global ag sector. I am also aware of our lack of any previous real penetration into global food markets. However, this country is now on an exciting new course, in which we can forge our new food export opportunities, and I believe that our agricultural industry can truly exert real influence on the global stage in promoting high animal welfare standards and ensuring that the high environmental bar that our farmers passionately adhere to is also met abroad.

As we consider the Bill, we need to look ahead to a new future. The question that I have been mulling over is: what is the best mechanism to ensure that our domestic agricultural industry thrives and is truly sustainable long into the future while also being able to show real leadership on the global stage by promoting abroad the high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards for which we are recognised? We have a truly credible sector producing some of the finest food the world has to offer, and I want to see our farming industry thrive with food production at its heart. That means ensuring strong market opportunities, both here and abroad.

The phrasing of the amendments definitely seems attractive, and I totally agree that the aspirations behind them are profoundly correct, but if we included them in the Agriculture Bill, which represents domestic policy, would they be workable on the world stage and would they be enforceable? After seeking advice from my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary, I have been informed that they do not adhere to the World Trade Organisation sanitary and phytosanitary agreement. Likewise, the wording of the amendments leads to uncertainty as to how the traceability measures would be enforced in countries abroad.

I reiterate that I am entirely in agreement with the aims of the proposed amendments—namely, to create a thriving domestic agricultural industry that it is not undercut by cheap foreign imports, while maintaining and promoting high animal welfare, environmental and food standards abroad. If the amendments are not workable through domestic policy, other mechanisms for achieving all those aims must be sought, rather than the inclusion of a blanket protectionist approach. That strategy could, in the long term as we go forth and emerge on the world stage, have unintended negative consequences for the long-term prosperity and sustainability of the British farming sector, as securing export markets for food produce may be harder to achieve. An early example of the opportunities that we have seen for British farmers is the lifting of the ban on UK beef exports by the US, creating a market for British farmers worth more than £66 million over the next five years.

As a country, we are on the cusp of opening up new and exciting export markets to our UK farmers. Such trade deals can be used to influence the world with our high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards. Yesterday, we heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade issue from the Dispatch Box an explicit reassurance that we will not lower our food imports standards as a result of the ongoing US trade deal. Seeking further reassurance, I personally spoke to the Prime Minister this morning. He assured me that our strong animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards will not be compromised, and I accepted his reassurance. None the less, I look forward to seeing those reassurances being upheld.

Let us think big and long-term for our UK farmers by opening up opportunities and making sure that our UK sector is known internationally and not as a dot, which is what I found a few years ago.