By Arj Singh
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Liz Truss has conceded to demands to set up a commission to scrutinise post-Brexit trade deals amid growing Tory pressure to rule out cheap US food being imported to the UK.
The trade secretary said the new trade and agriculture commission would set out “advisory” recommendations to ensure British farmers “do not face unfair competition and that their high animal welfare and production standards are not undermined”.
It comes amid growing concern about the possibility of chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef being permitted for import to the UK as part of a free trade deal with Donald Trump’s America.
One source suggested the move represented a victory for “patriotic patriotism” over the “Thatcherite free trade” being championed by Truss and her department.
Writing for HuffPost UK on Monday, Tory ex-minister George Freeman urged the government not to “pander to the grizzled US cheap food lobby with its hormone beef, chlorinated chicken and ‘finger-lick’n’ cheap food culture” and called for “clear red lines” on standards.
Around 20 Tory MPs have already rebelled to try and block the import of cheap food and more parliamentary resistance was expected on the agriculture and trade bills.
Truss’s concession comes after 18 months of pressure led by the National Farmers Union, which welcomed the move but stressed that MPs’ must be given a stronger role overseeing trade deals.
After positive discussions with @NFUtweets@NFUStweets@NFUCymru@UFUHQ we are establishing a new Trade and Agriculture Commission to make recommendations for:
👉 UK agricultural trade policy
👉 higher animal welfare standards across the🌎
👉 export opportunities for 🇬🇧 farming👇 pic.twitter.com/bItAngi3sQ
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) June 29, 2020
NFU president Minette Batters said it was a “hugely important” development but insisted the commission’s work must be “genuinely valuable”.
“In particular, it will be vital that parliament is able to properly consider the commission’s recommendations and can ensure the government implements them effectively,” she said.
“The NFU will continue to scrutinise the progress of trade negotiations with the USA and other countries over the coming months outside of the work of the commission so that our future trade deals work for British farmers and consumers, and believe it is vital that parliament is provided a strengthened role in this regard as well.”
Reacting to the news, Freeman suggested Truss’s move would be seen as a “first step” by Tory MPs who want the government to set red lines on food in US trade talks.
He told HuffPost UK: “The announcement of the government’s agreement to our food and trade commission is a big first step in the campaign for safe food, fair trade and a green Brexit.
2/2…crucial to make sure the Trade & Agric Commission isn’t just a quango talking shop but has clear remit & ToR to provide:
— George Freeman MP (@GeorgeFreemanMP) June 29, 2020
“Now we need to ensure the commission isn’t a talking shop but a vehicle for ensuring parliamentary scrutiny on trade deals, clear UK global goals and mechanisms to use trade deals to promote high global environmental and welfare standards.
“We promised a green Brexit. We must deliver.”
Truss said the committee would focus on food standards, consumer and developing countries’ interests, how to advance standards around the world, and developing export opportunities for UK businesses.
The minister also said she supported Batters’ insistence that the commission is “not another quango or regulator” and is “strictly time-limited”.
In a letter to the NFU president she said: “I wholeheartedly agree that any trade deal the UK strikes must be fair and reciprocal to our farmers, and must not compromise on our high standards of food safety and animal welfare.
“I have been very clear on both these points and will continue to fight for the interests of our farming industry in any and all trade agreements we negotiate.
“As you know this is the first time in over 40 years that the UK has pursued its own trade policy and I do recognise the importance of close engagement with the industry and a clear ‘roadmap’, as you put it, to help inform agricultural trade policy and apply appropriate safeguards in UK free trade deals.
“I am pleased therefore, on behalf of the government, to agree in principle to the establishment of a trade and agriculture commission under department for international trade auspices, subject to agreement on terms of reference.”