It is a pleasure to follow Anthony Mangnall, although I fear I am about to disagree with some of the points he made.
This evening’s debate presented an opportunity for the Government to reassert parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals and to put into law their rhetorical support for UK agriculture. During the course of this debate, we have seen valid concerns about the importance of maintaining a level playing field for domestic producers and about importers given short shrift. It is disappointing that the Government will not support the measures in Lords amendment 16, which would address those concerns, as well as enhance parliamentary oversight of trade agreements.
I understand that we cannot vote on Lord Curry’s amendment 18 this evening, but the Government should nevertheless ensure that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is made permanent. That would improve the transparency of negotiations, give much-needed reassurances that the interests of food producers will be championed in negotiations, and offer some redress to farmers whose concerns have, I am afraid, often been dismissed as mere protectionism—allegations that are, frankly, an insult to the commitment and professionalism of farmers throughout the UK.
The Government have not sufficiently explained their approach to the sensitive matter of standards in trade negotiations or how they will reconcile different production systems. We have heard mention of measures being introduced in the Trade Bill but we have yet to see them in practice. Against such a confused backdrop, this Bill’s failure to require agricultural imports to meet equivalent domestic standards of production should concern all the political parties. If we fail to ensure a level playing field between domestic production and imports, we run the risk of endangering the viability of many of our producers. We need only think of the experience of the UK pig industry to understand the consequences of allowing imports that are produced to standards that would be illegal for domestic production. The Government have tried to claim that such a requirement is unnecessary, as they have no intention of allowing imports of lower standards to enter the UK, but at the same time we hear Ministers claim that such a requirement would tie the hands of UK negotiators. These are irreconcilable claims.
This Government have long talked up the benefits of taking back control and of how, post-EU, we will be able to set the terms of our trade with the world. Those terms should be quite simple: UK market access for imports should be dependent on meeting equivalent UK food production standards. I fear that this Bill fetters the success and the future of Welsh farming. I urge the Government to reconsider their position on amendment 16, as the Bill in its current form misses a golden opportunity to safeguard the long-term success and viability of our food producers.