Import of agricultural goods after IP completion day

Part of Agriculture Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 13th May 2020.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest 4:20 pm, 13th May 2020

I want to talk about new clause 1, which is in the name of my hon. Friend Simon Hoare, and new clause 4, which has not been selected but was tabled by me. New clause 4 seeks to make the Secretary of State a trade champion for the British agricultural industry. Although the Department for International Trade is absolutely the lead Department on negotiating free trade deals and trade promotion, trade promotion is of course a whole-of-Government exercise. It is incumbent on every Department to ensure that they promote at all times the fantastic products that we want to export to the entire world. I want to put a marker down for the whole of Government that they must be there to promote British exports.

Turning to the specifics, new clause 4 looks at several issues, and we need to get deep into the weeds of what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural actually does when it comes to food exports. One of the most important parts of exporting and, indeed, importing food is ensuring that foodstuffs are of a sufficient quality. Irrespective of the market access and tariffs that we secure in a trade deal, every country needs to allocate a licence to ensure that any food product class is sufficiently safe for their own consumers. For example, when people want to export food to the UK, DEFRA, through the Food Standards Agency, will license imports of sanitary and phytosanitary products.

When we are trying to export products, it is important that DEFRA works hard with licensing agencies in other countries to ensure that the audit of our producers and the audit of our regulators are done in such a way as to ensure that those licences are expedited as much as possible. They can take three years to get done, but we need to be doing things far quicker. From time to time, we get a problem whereby licences will be withdrawn, and we saw that with British beef over the years after Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease—mad cow disease. It is only in the past few years that we have seen the French lift their ban on British beef and the Americans lift their bans on British beef and lamb, and that came decades after CJD was a problem. That is a second area where the Secretary of State at DEFRA must do everything they can to lift such bans to ensure that we get proper market access.

Furthermore, other countries have local laws that may create problems. A good example of that is Thailand, which has perfectly acceptable religious views on alcohol and requires that alcohol is not promoted on the bottle. However, if someone is trying to sell a bottle of 21-year-old malt whisky, the law could interpret that as being a promotion of the product, rather than just a statement of fact that it is a very good whisky. We managed to resolve that problem through the Department for International Trade, as it turned out, but the point is that we need to ensure that we try to break down those inadvertent barriers to entry at every level.

Although new clause 1 is incredibly well intentioned, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset stands up enthusiastically for the interests of farmers, I am afraid that it is rather misguided. Apart from anything else, it goes against the World Trade Organisation laws. In seeking to ensure that standards are maintained within the UK, it misses the point that standards are defined as outcomes not process. That is a problem as we particularly interested in outcomes. The process of ensuring that we have good animal welfare is laudable and important and quite extensive for our producers, but the outcome is ensuring that our consumers are not poisoned by food, which is an important point. I completely sympathise with the objectives of the new clause, which looks to help farmers, but it would end up setting a barrier for ourselves. We would introduce a process-based regulation, rather than an outcomes-based regulation under WTO terms. What we must do is support our farmers by promoting exports. We need the Secretary of State to report back on an annual basis, but we do not want to create other barriers, which new clause 1 would introduce.