Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill.
A number of constituents have rightly raised questions about the Trade Bill and amendments to it.
It is important to bear in mind that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. The powers within the Bill could not be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. Instead, the Bill only allows for trade agreements that we have been party to through our EU membership to be transitioned into UK law.
Future Trade Agreements are currently being negotiated, and it would be wrong to pre-empt what will be in those.
When it comes to scrutiny of new trade agreements, it is important to make the distinction between the Trade Bill and the Government’s future trade agreements programme. The process of negotiating future trade deals is not primarily a matter for the Trade Bill. However, I want to reassure you that there will be opportunities for both the public and Parliament to consider, contribute to and scrutinise negotiations for future free trade agreements. Public consultations will run ahead of all negotiations, and a number have already taken place, including for negotiations with the US, Australia and New Zealand. Ministers have also committed to provide Parliamentarians, UK citizens and businesses with access to the information they need on trade negotiations.
Furthermore, beginning with the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the House of Commons’ International Trade Committee and House of Lords’ International Agreements Sub-Committee will receive advanced copies of trade agreements. I also welcome the Government’s assurance that these committees will have at least 10 sitting days to examine the texts of trade deals.
The Government has extended the Trade and Agriculture Commission and will place it on a full statutory footing in the Trade Bill, giving farmers a stronger voice in UK trade policy. The Commission will produce a report to be laid in Parliament on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each new free trade deal signed after the end of the transition period. This will allow Parliamentarians access to independent and expert advice when reviewing the impact of each trade deal.
On food standards, people in Devon and across the country rightly want high quality, high welfare produce, and I am clear that if our trading partners want to break into the UK market, they should expect to meet those standards. The manifesto I stood on was clear that in all trade negotiations, our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards will not be compromised. The Government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure any deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers.
I am pleased that all food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements. I know that the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book. These import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcasses. Any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before Parliament.
The UK’s food standards, for both domestic production and imports, are overseen by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. These are independent agencies and provide advice to the UK and Scottish governments. They will continue to do so in order to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards.
Finally, I am very pleased that the Government are already engaging with the agricultural sector as part of its trade discussions, including the National Farmers Union. It is encouraging that Ministers share my determination to ensure our future trade agreements will deliver benefits for our brilliant local farmers and food producer, both in the South West and across the country.
Thank you again for writing to me.