I welcome our witnesses. Before calling the first Member to ask a question, I remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that we must stick to the timings in the programme order. We therefore have until 12.15 pm for this session. Will the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?
I am Gary Stephenson. I am the global regulatory affairs director for Devro, which is a collagen casing manufacturing company based in Scotland that exports to more than 100 markets. I am also chair of the Food and Drink Federation Scotland, which is a member-funded organisation that looks after manufacturers in Scotland. Its main focus is EU and UK regulatory influencing.
I am Sarah Dickson. I am the international director at the Scotch Whisky Association. We represent 68 Scotch whisky manufacturers, producers and bottlers. Whisky is the UK’s largest food and drink export: whisky exports were worth £4 billion in 2016, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs figures coming out soon should show an increase in that. We export to 180 different markets, and have done so for the past 150 years.
Thank you, Mr Davies. May I wish everyone a very happy Burns day? So that our Welsh colleagues do not feel left out, I understand that it is also St Dwynwen’s day—I hope I pronounced that correctly—so let me say a very happy St Dwynwen’s day, too.
Q 151 Let me begin with Sarah Dickson. In your association’s view, does the Bill set out the consultation and scrutiny processes that you would like? Does it set out proper processes for the conduct of our international trade? Did the way the Government prosecuted the lead-up to the Bill—the way they took on board the representations of your industry and the wider business community—engender trust?
For us, transparent and participative trade policy is really important. As an exporting organisation, we have been dealing with trade policy decisions in countries around the world for many years. We find that the best way to make trade policy is to involve people, consult them in that process and gather views, because you will find that some people will do better out of an agreement than others, and decisions will need to be made. Only by having a wide consultation on that and involving people in the process do you really get to a good outcome that it is then possible to implement and pass.
The Trade Bill as written at the moment—we do not know if there is more legislation to come—does not really cover that point in a statutory way. Of course, you do not have to consult and use statute to do that, but it concerns us that trade policy has been with the EU for many years and the UK has not done it. When it comes to having confidence—it is about confidence, rather than trust—in what the process is and when you would get input into that to have your say, we would be encouraged if we had more detail in a statutory instrument.
I see the Bill as a sort of framework for future implementation of more specific regulations. I think the challenge is in the detail. If we look at key sectors such as animal-derived products, which represent 70% of the food exports from Scotland, there are some specifics there that will be required, on, say, animal health, protection and regulations in regard to which countries are permitted to export to different markets. There is registration for different markets. There are export health certificates and border inspection posts for imports of those materials. All that is fairly complex and detailed. We would hope that we would be consulted on any more specific legislation. It is difficult at this stage to say whether it is heading in the right direction or not. It depends on that ability to consult. There will need to be consultation in the devolved Governments, as well as with the UK.
Q So to put that same final question, do you have confidence yet in the framework that the Government have set out?
From Food Standards Scotland’s perspective, the part of the Bill that engages most with us relates to implementation of trade agreements going forward. If current trade agreements between the EU and third countries are carried over in their current form, that may not change matters significantly. If those trade agreements down the road start to change, or there is a desire or a wish to start to change them, the transparency on how that would happen is not yet evident. Overriding all of that, of course, in the devolved context, is the issue about the constraints in competence that the Bill would bring on Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament, and therefore on ourselves, to be able to provide assurances to consumers in Scotland about standards, and assurance in relation to international trade.
I want to ask each of you whether you think that the Bill is sufficient to do what it needs to doQ , bearing in mind that it is not about future trade deals, but is about facilitating the carry-over of deals that are already in place?
It is difficult to tell with the Bill as it stands, because the devil is in the detail. There are 40-plus EU free trade agreements. Some are very small—economically they are not too important—but there are some very big free trade agreements within those. Clearly, we cannot do them all at once, and the key bit will be whether there is some sort of Government prioritisation of those agreements, perhaps from the standpoint of size of markets. There are some very big ones in there: Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Ukraine, Turkey and Egypt are very large markets that are certainly important for UK-Scottish producers.
Q If I may, though, the question was about this particular Bill and whether you think it will facilitate carry-over of those trade agreements set out in it.
There is uncertainty, because of the transitional phase within those discussions. If we are in a transitional phase, we are out of the EU but we are still controlled by the customs requirements. It very much depends. If there is good will on both sides, then things should progress acceptably. If any of these markets want to change the agreement with the UK, that puts us in a difficult position, because we have certainly got a fairly weak position during the transition period, where we are bound not to agree any future agreement but are still tied to the European requirements, though we are outside the EU. I am not sure how that will be resolved, and it is not detailed in the legislation.
We are probably in a slightly different position, in that we think this Bill has the basics that you would need to carry over existing agreements. Also, because of the time pressure, we could understand that with existing agreements there may not be time for the sort of consultation and other discussion that you would want with new agreements, or if these agreements were to be changed. For an existing agreement, where the terms are to all intents and purposes similar, we can see that this Bill has the basics to do that.
For new agreements, or agreements that were changing, as Gary has mentioned, you would need a much more detailed consultation process, with scrutiny, and that is probably the bit of the legislation that it feels like the Trade Bill is missing. What happens with future deals or if deals change? How would that process work?
Q Gary Stephenson, in your 2016 annual report, you said:
“the proposed new international trading arrangements…may be on disadvantageous terms compared to the current conditions.”
Could you say what your concerns are about the trade agreements covered in this Bill, and where you see the possibility of them being included on disadvantageous terms?
I assume that refers more to the EU situation, in that in Scotland, a large proportion of our exports are to the EU, and we are clearly looking potentially at more challenging conditions from the standpoint of, “Will the UK be added to the EU list of approved countries?”, and registration of approved establishments. At the moment, it is probably the sheer volume of materials having to pass through customs and border inspection posts and so on that is likely to cause increased trading challenges, unless we get that right, and that is a critical piece.
Q I asked about a slightly different issue: the agreements being moved over to between the UK and the 40 or so partners.
For the EU free trade agreements, I do not necessarily see them being as challenging. The only issue would be—take Korea. We used to export to Korea before the free trade agreement. The free trade agreement came in and basically removed the tariff, so the only difference, hopefully, would be that we are back to a tariff situation, which we did not have during the free trade agreement.
Q Sure. We had evidence on Tuesday that the EU will still have a say, or that it will be relevant to include the EU in discussions about the so-called roll-over—the move to corresponding agreements, as a different way of putting it. What is your take on that? Some deals are tripartite, rather than bipartite.
Q Can I ask Elspeth Macdonald about tariff rate quotas? What concerns does your sector have about the potential changes to the UK’s current share of TRQs and any changes to regulatory standards that would allow overseas producers to access UK markets as a result of a copy-and-paste approach to the existing free trade agreements?
Certainly, in relation to regulatory standards—technical standards—for food, industry and consumers are generally fairly confident and satisfied with the standards in the current EU regulatory framework. Certainly, when we talk to businesses and the public about the regulatory standards governing the food that they eat, and the food that they buy and use in their businesses, in Scotland, there is a generally high degree of satisfaction with EU standards. Any changes in future that began to change those regulatory standards away from those that currently provide a high degree of public health protection and consumer protection would be of some concern.
Q On the tariff rate quotas, we have heard from other countries that they want not just the current level of quotas to be maintained between the EU and the UK, and the split that the UK Government have proposed, but additional quotas.
Q But what if one of the consequences of the negotiations to produce corresponding agreements was additional quotas that increased imports in your sector? Do you have a view on that?
That is probably more in the food manufacturers’ area, because how the tariff rate quota is divided up is obviously for negotiation between the UK and the EU. I know that the World Trade Organisation has some influence on how it is divided up. This is where the specific industry sector should be consulted on what it believes would be the fair quota. Any of us is probably not in a position to set out a position on any specific quota. Take lamb as an example: what is a suitable quota that the UK would take back from the EU? It is a complex area, and I think it is best to ask that question of the sector responsible.
Happy Burns day to everyone, and I thank the witnesses for joining us today. Following on with the issue of cost, the meat sector is potentially looking at WTO tariffs on meat processors at 60%. If that is coupled with HMRC saying that 130,000 companies have never filled out a customs declaration, what impact, from a food and drink and meat processing perspective, do you think there will be on the sector, broadly and in terms of bureaucracy and staffing? Do you feel that adequate investigation and consultation has taken place?Q
Wow, that is a big one. There are a number of elements to this. My company is in a fairly unique position in the food industry, in that we already import product into the EU, so we understand the complexities of that process. It is about whether the region you are from is authorised on the EU legislation side. Is your business registered within the EU as a registered business to produce that product? Other countries have similar issues. The US has similar legislation, which requires overseas suppliers to be registered with the Food and Drug Administration.
There is an additional piece: the export health certificates, which are not needed for the EU at present, but will be. Each one of those costs the business. It is not just the cost of the certificates—the vet must come to inspect. Have we got enough vets in the UK to provide that service? That is an additional challenge.
Yes. Every single shipment requires a certificate, which we get from Carlisle, from the Animal and Plant Health Agency. You would have an official vet come in to sign that certificate. For example, in our case, if we need four times more certificates after Brexit than we are currently using, that is four times the cost. I am not saying that the vet would come four times more often, but he would certainly be in there twice as often, so you would be looking at twice the cost. Some businesses have not yet been exporting and will need an export health certificate. All this is going to be new for them. They are going to need a new certificate, and they are going to need to pay the vet to come and sign that certificate.
The additional piece involves shipping agents and border inspection posts. If you are using a shipping agent to export your product, in order to get all the paperwork right and so on, that is going to cost you. As you mentioned, most businesses have not exported in a way that requires customs declarations and so on, so that is an additional cost to businesses that they are probably not very aware of. I cannot give an exact figure for how much more, but it is an extra cost.
Q Is there not also a risk, given that we have 40 free trade agreements with 60 countries through the EU, that if we have not done all those bilaterals—with the greatest will in the world, it seems incredible that we would manage to do so, unless the Government have some magic up their sleeves—there will be additional bureaucracy with those individual countries? We have inspectors in each of those countries already inspecting products. Elspeth, can you talk about that?
Gary makes some really valid points about the increased burdens and bureaucracy for business, but it is also important to be reminded that the additional level of checking and assurance that may be required in future is also likely to have a significant impact on local authorities, for example. They have an important function in providing assurance about standards and compliance with legislation in food businesses that export to other countries. There is absolutely the potential for a significant impact of a new requirement for veterinary checks and so on, but also, should more checks be needed in future than now, there could be significant impacts on local authorities.
From a Scotch whisky perspective, we may not need the vets, but we benefit from the tariff reductions, the intellectual property protection and the non-tariff barriers given to us by the agreements. About 10% of our exports go to a country covered by an EU free trade agreement. One thing that we have been talking to Department for International Trade officials about is how business can help. We would be more than happy to see if there is any contribution we can make to make sure these agreements are carried over.
There is an additional piece from Elspeth’s comments. Currently, importing countries’ manufacturing sites are visited by an EU vet to assess their suitability and whether they are meeting European standards. When we are outside the EU, that will become a UK responsibility. We do not have the resources available today to conduct those checks.
Q On the protections, Sarah, we are all aware of the geographical indicators and their vital importance across different sectors, particularly for Scotch. What would be the impact if we lost our geographical indication?
I am working on the basis that, because we will have the carrying over of all EU legislation into the UK, we will not lose the GI and an intellectual property system will be there to protect protected names such as Scotch whisky. We use it in all markets all over the world to make sure that people do not copy our product and produce lookey-likey fakes and that kind of thing. That is very important to our industry. We are working on the basis that that comes across lock, stock and barrel.
Before I ask my question, can I just point out an important error in some of the official documents? Whisky is spelled with an “e” on some of the documents, and that is a very different product from Scotch whisky. On Burns night, I thought it was appropriate to point that out.
Q I would like to get a sense from the witnesses of what the impact would be on the food and drinks sector, particularly in Scotland, if this Bill did not happen and we left the EU without the carry-over of the existing EU free trade agreements. Have you quantified the value of transferring over what we already have into our domestic legislation?
For us, 10% of our exports go to those countries and benefit from them. I cannot give you an overall figure, but obviously, if you are not paying the tariff, you are not paying the tariff and you do not have that cost. It would make a difference to about 10% of our exports, and our exports were £4 billion in 2016.
I do not have figures in front of me, but I think the document the Scottish Government published recently, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”, about business, jobs and the economy, touched on exactly those issues and put some economic analysis around some of that in terms of trade.
All I can say is that I think about 37% of exports of food from Scotland are to non-EU countries, but we have not quantified exactly what the impact would be and how much of that is going to countries with a free trade agreement. I cannot give an exact answer, but it will have an impact.
My question relates to non-tariff measures, which you have all spoken about in varying ways; of course there are food standards, phytosanitary standards and so on. What level of consultation do you think is appropriate for the Government to carry out with the sectors affected, prior to any negotiation on those provisionsQ ?
There has to be deep consultation. The people with the expertise are the ones shipping the products, so they need to be consulted in detail on those provisions, which are very specific. You mentioned phytosanitary; obviously seed potatoes are a big product for Scotland, and they are highly dependent on phytosanitary requirements.
Our experience is that we are often the ones working with the EU to draft the provisions on whatever it might be—labelling, or other requirements that would be needed for a mutual recognition—so we currently work closely with the EU negotiators to provide them with the advice and support that they need.
There is a more fundamental issue from my perspective. There are specific exemptions from reservation through the Scotland Act that make it a devolved function for technical standards to be set in relation to food. There is a fundamental question above: it is about not just the Government, but Governments having those discussions with businesses.
I have a two-part question, if that is okay, Chair. Gary, coming back to tariff-rate quotas, you suggested that different sectors should be able to have input. Do you have any concerns about devolved Administrations and their need for input, and about how, even if tariff-rate quotas are agreed via subdivision, those quotas will be allocated to the different nations in the UK?Q
I think it is critical, particularly looking at some sectors, that the devolved Governments consult with sectors, and that there is a unified approach. This is too important to get parochial about. It is an important issue for the whole UK, but there is a higher impact in some sectors, particularly in Scotland and Wales; I am thinking of hill farming products and that type of thing.
Q I have one more, Chair, if that is okay. Elspeth, I believe that you have come out as backing the Scottish and Welsh Governments’ decisions to withhold a legislative consent motion. Will you outline your concerns and say what you would like changed in the Bill to alleviate those concerns?
The principal issue with the Bill that causes us great difficulties is the way in which it constrains the ability of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers, and consequently our ability, to act and regulate in ways that are considered appropriate for businesses and the public in Scotland. The fundamental issue is essentially the same as in the case of the constraints imposed through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill; it is a similar matter of high principle that overarches the Bills.
When the EU negotiates a trade agreement, it always looks to protect geographical indications. It does that in different ways. Not every agreement has exactly the same provisions, but it is always what they call an offensive interest of the EU to make sure that geographical names are protected. Where we think that an agreement with that intellectual property protection—that is basically what a geographical indication gives us—does not exist anymore, we will have to find other means, which means spending time and resources trying to work the country’s system. All countries, via their TRIPS—trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights—agreement, should have intellectual property; it is just that the easiest, clearest way to do this is through a free trade agreement.
We have already started work, in countries where there is an EU trade agreement, on making sure that we double up, so to speak, and work through the Government system to try to make sure that there is no intellectual property gap.
I think the engagement with the UK Government is the missing piece of the puzzle, but we assume that it will happen at some point, and that we will have more detail on it. The market access advisory committee is a great way for us, the industry, to feed in our views formally to all the member states. We regularly attend it. It has a spirit-specific working group that we are able to contribute to. It feels very much like a partnership. We explain the problems we face in markets around the world and the EU then works out how it can respond to that. It has to prioritise, but because you have all the sectors contributing in that way and it is quite an open, transparent process, you know that you are at least being listened to and included in its strategies.
Q That is very useful; thank you very much. In your experience, do ad hoc mechanisms for stakeholder engagement work or do they need to be structured by statute?
We would feel more confident at the moment to have that laid out formally by the Government, in terms of what they are planning to do and how it will work. Ad hoc can work where you have developed personal relationships. We used to know everybody who did trade policy in the British Government, but that is not true anymore. Now there are 500, 600 or 700 people across Government doing it. When there used to be 40, it was much easier. As that grows and changes, having a very clear structure, so we know how to feed in and when and how, would be very helpful for us.
Q Excellent. That is very useful. To Ms Macdonald, in your opinion will it be possible, as the Government claim, to simply copy and paste the existing agreements without any substantial changes and without the need for consultation and scrutiny? Surely that has not been possible in the case of Switzerland, Norway and Turkey.
This is a question for Ms Dickson. The Scotch Whisky Association has set out a framework for consultation set in statute through a UK trade policy advisory network. Could you explain what that proposal isQ ?
It would be very similar to what the US does. It has cleared advisers. When you are into a negotiation, I know one thing that this House has talked about before is how you talk about a negotiation while it is ongoing and how you consult on those provisions without revealing what is a moving target. What the US does is to have cleared advisors in statute; they are people it is able to talk to to work out how to make a success of a provision within a negotiation. We can see that there might be a role for legislation in this area, where you want to be able to talk to people on a formal basis about what is essentially a Government-to-Government discussion.
Q What principles should the system of consultation and engagement with stakeholders follow, in your opinion? Does the current Bill embody those principles?
We believe that the more open and transparent trade policy is, the better. That means wide consultation. So we are not just talking about business in this—you need a wide range of stakeholders involved. We think you will need to define what that looks like, because there are going to be time limits and speed limits in doing the negotiations when you are trying to get something achieved. The wider and more comprehensive you can make that, the easier it will then be to pass and implement afterwards. We think it is very important that those principles are part of UK trade policy going forward.
Q Can I quickly return to geographical indications and ask Ms Macdonald a question? Given the ambiguity of the Government’s position to ensure that GIs are awarded to UK producers in trade agreements—they did not list a single one in the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—what are your concerns about the representation of your interests in trade agreements?
Our interests in terms of geographical indications are that consumers know what they are buying and that, whatever system is in place—the Government’s stated intention is that things will be the same after exit—people can have confidence that products are not being misdescribed in terms of their geographic origin. There is confidence in the current system because it is a robust and well-regulated system that is set out in statute. Our particular interests are ensuring that, when businesses trade and when people buy products that are advertised and described in a particular way, those claims, whether they are about origin or anything else, are accurate.
Q I want to marry up two things that Mr Stephenson and Ms Dickson said. I was struck by your phrase, Mr Stephenson, that there will be no “lift and shift”. In that context, looking at the way the existing agreements have to be transposed into corresponding agreements, I wonder whether you might comment on the Government’s ability to do that, given their red lines with the Norwegian agreement and the Turkish agreement. One of those currently involves the European economic area and free movement of people, and the other involves the customs union.
I want to marry that up with what you said, Ms Dickson, about the roll-over of terms. When you were asked about South Korea, you did not actually narrate the history of your association’s difficulty with South Korea, which of course was very resistant to the geographical indicator when you presented it on behalf of the Scotch Whisky Association. Do you think there is a possibility that South Korea might use this opportunity to reverse the progress that was made? There is one question for each of you.
I would love to be in the head of the South Korean Government and to know quite where they will take this process. The conversation between the EU, the UK and the South Korean Government will have to be for them. Is it impossible that third countries might try to use this opportunity to reopen agreements? It is not impossible, but I hope that is not the case. When the UK has left the EU and is having its own bilateral trade policy conversations with third countries, we will undoubtedly get into these conversations about what they might want to change.
Q Why would the South Koreans not use this opportunity, while we are under pressure to do things within a limited timescale, to negotiate better terms, as they see them? They tried very hard to negotiate those terms with the EU in the first place, did they not?
The flipside is what South Korean businesses are saying to them about the benefits they gain from the trade deal. That is the judgment in all trade deals: who is benefiting, how much they are benefiting, and whether the things they do not benefit from outweigh the benefits they get. As I said, that is really a judgment for the South Korean Government. That is partly why we are trying to protect our GIs as best we can in addition to agreements.
I will build on that. You are exactly right: there is an opportunity for them to renegotiate, and the UK, given the set-up it will be in, will be in a weaker position to defend against that. It would be ideal if the transition were just an extension of article 50, but we know it will not be. We will be out of the EU and trying to negotiate in a transitional period in which we are not supposed to be negotiating and are not supposed to have a final agreement, we want to get things delivered on time, and we do not have all the necessary resources. How do we prioritise everything? I think there are a lot of things rolled into your scepticism, but I share that scepticism.