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    Myth-busting the Trade Amendment

    Myth-busting the Trade Amendment
    28/10/2020 Steph Wetherell

    In response to “myths” put forward by MPs who followed the Conservative whip and voted against Amendment 16 to save our standards, we have created the following myth-busting information for MPs and members of the public. We are concerned that so many of the responses from MP’s use references to the impact on “developing countries” and UK farmers as an excuse for their vote. As a union representing UK farmers, connected to La Via Campesina – a global movement representing 200 million small-scale farmers worldwide – we challenge these myths. 

    On November 4th, the Agriculture Bill makes its way back to the Commons for final stages in Parliament. The House of Lords has returned this improved amendment to the House of Commons once more for a vote which would enshrine in law a duty for the Government to seek equivalence on agri-food standards in future trade deals. The new number for the slightly revised amendment is 16B.

     

    Myth 1 – They claim that the amendment would prevent us from trading with anyone who did not meet our standards of production and cut off many of the world’s poorest communities from trading with the UK.

    Truth – Yes, the House of Lords amendment requires countries to match the UK standards of production. However, this does not prevent us trading with any individual country, including poorer countries. It simply raises the bar for those who wish to trade with us. 

    These standards would give impetus to both European countries and the world’s lower income countries to improve their animal welfare and environmental standards to secure a market in the UK which can improve their economic position, whilst improving their standards. A positive example is the Namibian government who brought in an animal welfare assurance scheme so their beef farmers could meet EU import requirements. This led to Namibia becoming the largest exporter of beef to the EU from Africa and it improved domestic animal health and welfare standards.

    If we are truly committed to high standards we could work with other countries, helping them improve their working conditions for their farmers, their environmental standards, their animal welfare standards through our UK aid budget.

     

    Myth 2 – The amendment prevents imports of bananas from many countries including the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon and coffee from Indonesia, Ghana and Vietnam and black tea from Kenya.

    Truth – The amendment is worded so it can be applied only to relevant  “like” products, which are products that are either the same, or similar, to a domestic one. There is also a clause in the amendment which allows for exceptions if it would disproportionately impact developing countries.

     

    Myth 3 – Legislation on things like carbon emission targets and hedgerows would make the process too complex- especially for developing countries. 

    Truth – Similarly countries would only need to ensure compliance with relevant standards to directly related to “like” products. Legislation on hedgerows or general legislative climate change targets, which are not equivalent to standards on agri-food imports, would not be considered relevant. 

     

    Myth 4  – Banning food imports from developing countries would do extraordinary harm to our partners, trade and diplomatic networks

    Truth – This does not reflect the reality. There have been similar instances in the EU where food imports have had to be stopped from other countries because of not meeting food standards and it has been of help to those countries. For instance – Punjab, a state in India which has amongst the highest pesticide usage in India has had its basmati rice export to the EU impacted because of pesticide residues. Consequently Punjab banned 9 pesticides with data showing a reduction in pesticide usage. Just to give an idea why this is important – recent data shows more than 31,000 people dying in India because of acute pesticide usage.

     

    Myth 5  – Analysis by the Department for International Trade shows that an agreement with the US would strengthen UK farmers’ incomes and that new free trade agreements could lead to gains for UK agriculture.

    Truth – Numerous economic studies  illustrate that, on balance, trade deals hurt farmer incomes for farmers who sell within the domestic economy. The harm to smaller farms which do not export, needs to be weighed against increased income for larger export focused farms. Since every farmers union is in support of this amendment the decision by farmers for farmers has been voiced clearly! 

    This amendment would make it more difficult to negotiate a trade agreement with the US and other countries, but it does not prevent a trade deal. We could still negotiate to trade, albeit probably on less ambitious terms. Currently the US is already a substantial export market, accounting for almost one fifth of all South West’s goods exports. A UK-US trade deal could eliminate tariffs of up to 25% on cheese sold in the US, which would benefit a handful of producers, however, even without a trade deal they would still be able to export to the US. 

     

    Myth 6 – The DTI claims that continued access to international markets is critical if we are to maintain the integrity of our food production and agricultural sectors saying that that total UK agricultural exports total over £20bn, imposing such requirements could destroy the viability of businesses across the country

    Truth – In reality being undercut by cheaper products will cause more harm to the integrity of our food production and agricultural sectors. The volatility of the global marketplace is very hard for farmers. To stabilise and support farm incomes we need to refocus our trade regime towards our domestic food economy,  balancing trade deficits in products we can produce in the UK. We could re-orientated the markets for farms focused on export to domestic markets since the majority of food and agricultural products imported to the UK are products that we produce ourselves and they come from countries with climates similar to our own. Our current approach to trade is irrational. But more than this, it is socially and ecologically destructive when we ship products out and bring similar products in.

    Product
    (2018)
    Value Imported (£bn) % imported from Northern Europe Value Exported (£bn)
    Cheese 1.69 77% 0.63
    Pork 1.54 85% 0.39
    Beef 1.38 88% 0.47
    Poultry 1.31 93% 0.39
    Milk+Dairy 0.92 91% 0.77
    Salmon 0.69 99% 0.44
    Wheat 0.58 71% 0.23
    Lamb 0.37 18% 0.38
    Butter 0.37 88% 0.14
    Wool 0.35 22% 0.19
    Apples 0.32 41% 0.01

    Most of the UK’s primary import products are also products we export. We import the vast majority of these products from northern European countries – countries with very similar climates to our own.  

     

    Myth 6 – The Amendment would violate WTO regulations and undermine our position in global trade.

    Truth – Client Earth have published a report called International trade rules and environmental protection measures, which lays out how nations can use tools and measures in trade deals to protect the environment and human health. Members of Parliament (MPs) opposed to safeguarding British food and farming standards, have claimed it is not possible to do so under WTO rules. Therefore, this report is central for recognising and acknowledging the mechanisms which the UK can use to uphold its higher standards when negotiating trade deals.

     

    Myth 7 – Our parliamentary scrutiny processes are some of the best in the world as any new trade deal will be laid before Parliament under the CRaG protocols, and be the subject of a parliamentary debate. 

    Truth – The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act (CRaG) – a process agreed decades ago – is not fit for this purpose, and which will mean that the House of Commons will not have a say on trade deals. 

    According to this table created by the Trade Justice Movementcompared to other countries the UK does not have:

    Before Negotiations –  

    • MP’s having legal rights to see objectives of trade deal
    • MP’s being able to vote on objectives of trade deal
    • Objectives of trade deals being published for public consultation

    During Negotiations – 

    • MP’s having legal rights to regular updates on trade deal
    • Public having access to at least some text of trade deal

    After Negotiations – 

    • Guaranteed debate in Parliament on trade deal
    • Guaranteed vote in Parliament on trade deal
    • Parliament being able to reject trade deal entirely

     

    Myth 8 – It falls to our independent food regulators, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland, to ensure that all food imports into the UK are safe and meet the relevant UK product rules and regulations. The FSA’s risk analysis process is rigorous, completely independent of the Government and based on robust scientific evidence, along with other legitimate factors such as wider consumer interests and the impact on the environment, animal welfare and food security. 

    Truth – The Food Standards Agency (FSA) does not analyse the impact of lower standards food products on farmers’ livelihoods. This must be a condition of trade. We are also concerned that the FSA will keep an eye on hormone beef and chlorinated chicken but fail to protect us against pesticides, ractopamine in pork and other standards which do not have as much media attention.

     

    Myth 9 –  Chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-injected beef are banned in this country and will continue to be banned in this country going forward.

    Truth – The current regulations can be very easily overturned through secondary legislation without Parliament scrutiny, hence the ask to put this in as an amendment in the Bill.

     

    Myth 10- Trust us to maintain standards

    Truth- Government was elected on a manifesto commitment to uphold our food and farming standards. The people, cross-party MP’s House of Lords, are asking them to put the commitments in law and the Government is resisting. We wonder why?

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