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WTO: Food Security and Agriculture

Volume 651: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018

2. What recent discussions he has had with members of the WTO on global (a) food security and (b) agricultural trade. (908319)

I add my Christmas wishes to you, Mr Speaker.

Both issues have been covered recently in discussions with World Trade Organisation members. For example, agricultural global value chains were considered at the recent G20 trade and investment working group. As a supporter of the rules-based multilateral trading system, we believe that WTO members must continually look for ways of strengthening the system.

I understand that a number of important WTO member states have objected to the UK and EU splitting tariff rate quotas post Brexit. At the end of October, the Secretary of State announced that the UK would be entering into general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations. Is that another illustration of the fact that we cannot unilaterally negotiate trading arrangements post Brexit with other countries, and that it requires agreement? It looks like it will be an incredibly lengthy and tortuous process that will not have quick results.

The hon. Lady will know that the vast majority of nations represented in the WTO accepted the deposit of our schedules. Some did not and we are entering article 28 negotiations with them, as is completely normal. We can trade on those schedules as deposited until then—the European Union has been trading on uncertified schedules since 1995, so it should not impede our trade. Yes, negotiations will continue to agree those tariff rate quotas.

You have had a bit of a week, Mr Speaker—we all have. May I take this opportunity to wish you a very restful Christmas and a happy new year?

Does the Department for International Trade accept that what one needs for international trade is willing buyers and sellers? Has the Department made any estimate of how much lower food prices will be to British consumers if we leave the European Union without the withdrawal agreement?

The situation after a hard Brexit— a no-deal Brexit—is a complex one and will rely on a large number of factors. Some Government policies have yet to be absolutely finalised. The pricing of goods in the UK market, particularly for food, is regarded as extremely sensitive, as indeed are the incomes and livelihoods of farmers throughout the UK who rely on selling those products.

Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

The memo published by the European Commission yesterday was clear that, if the UK leaves with no deal and ends up trading on WTO terms, customs declarations and other checks will be required on exports into the EU. Have the Government estimated how much that will cost UK business?

The Prime Minister has brought back a deal from Brussels. I believe it is the right deal for this country. If it is put in place, what the hon. Gentleman describes will plainly not be an issue.

Happy Christmas to you from Taunton Deane, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] I thought I would get that in.

The EU is the largest trading partner for agriculture and food for this country and, under our relationship with the EU, agriculture has blossomed. Margins are very tight. Will the Minister give assurances that, in the worst-case scenario, agriculture will not suffer under WTO rules? In the best-case scenario, does he agree that accepting the deal is by far the best option for our farmers?

I apologise, Mr Speaker—I was not listening carefully to the question. I am told by my Front-Bench colleagues that the answer is yes and yes.

I think we appreciate the Minister’s candour. There was no dissembling there, and we thank him for that.

Merry Christmas to everybody.

Will the Minister confirm that any future trade agreements will not undermine current environmental and animal welfare standards?

On this occasion I was listening and have the question in my mind. I deeply apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow)—she is listed as having another question.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has repeatedly made it clear in the House that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of free trade agreements. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, apart from anything else it would be business madness to do so. A lot of our exporters rely on Britain’s reputation abroad for quality, and undermining it would simply not work. Further, large numbers of Labour Members did not vote for the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, which contained specific chapters—chapters 5, 23 and 24—that pursued exactly what he wants. Labour Front Benchers did not support it.