Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Chair, EU Internal Market Sub-Committee 6:45 pm, 30th January 2019

My Lords, I would like to put in a brief word here. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will recall that, towards the end of the time when she and I were crossing swords on agricultural policy, the issue of agricultural trade multilaterally fell down in the Doha round precisely on this issue of tariff-rate quotas. The amendment of my noble friend Lord Grantchester—who was also present on those occasions—is a probing amendment to see how we are going to deal with the situation for imports.

Our exports, to which the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady McIntosh, referred, are also vitally important, but we need to have a line from the Government in relation to the existing tariff quotas for European imports with a number of our trading partners. It is not necessarily in the interests of those trading partners to preserve what is de facto the UK share of imports from them to the whole of the EU. Some of them are fly enough to actually notice that their bargaining position in relation to the UK on its own might be slightly greater than their bargaining position in relation to the EU as a whole. It is therefore not entirely surprising that, in these existing potential rollover treaties, there might be some attempt to change the amount of imports that the tariff quota allows into the UK. That itself, of course, is potentially a danger to our domestic production in many of these areas. However, assuming that it will be an easy task simply to roll over all of these existing EU-wide treaties is one of the features of the Government’s complacency.

Of course, the issue becomes even more important when rather bigger agricultural producers might actually be approached by us, or approach us, for a free trade agreement down the line, when their interests will undoubtedly be to press for very high import quotas— from Brazil, America or Australia—in any potential free trade agreement that we are seeking to make primarily on behalf of our manufacturing and service sectors. It might well be something on which we need to put down a marker now.

The Government might have some difficulty with the wording of my noble friend’s amendment, but we need to know what their position is on this. Otherwise, we will be presented with a whole series of treaties that incorporate the existing division, which might not be to our benefit and, more importantly, will set a precedent for how we are going to deal with future treaties and agricultural trade within that context.