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Trade Barriers: Food and Farming

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022

1. What progress her Department has made on tackling trade barriers for British food and farming businesses. (902792)

8. What progress her Department has made on tackling trade barriers for British food and farming businesses. (902804)

15. What progress her Department has made on tackling trade barriers for British food and farming businesses. (902815)

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the House to take a moment this morning to show our resolve, and the country’s resolve, never to forget the horrors and barbarism committed on our continent within living memory. We will always remember the holocaust, and man’s inhumanity to man, and we resolve to work to ensure that the suffering of so many is never forgotten and never repeated.

In the past two years we have resolved nearly 400 trade barriers, from opening markets for UK pork in Mexico and Chile to UK poultry in Japan. The recent deals with Australia and New Zealand also provide various mechanisms to identify and address trade barriers. This year the UK achieved the first export of British lamb to the USA in more than 20 years, a market estimated by industry to be worth £37 million over the first five years.

May I take this opportunity to welcome my hon. Friend to his post, and to associate myself with his remarks regarding today’s commemoration of the holocaust?

My hon. Friend, as a fellow Aberdeenshire Member of Parliament, will be aware, as should everyone, of the high quality of food and drink that Scotland has to offer the world. He will also be aware of the concerns raised by seed potato growers in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere across Scotland about the European Union’s intransigence in not allowing the absolute same standard of seed potatoes that had been available to meet the vast demand for them across the European continent. What is the Department for International Trade doing either to resolve that issue or, indeed, to find new markets for that wonderful product?

I thank my hon. Friend, and constituency neighbour but one, for all that he does to champion farmers in Aberdeenshire, and indeed across Scotland, as he did when he was a Scotland Office Minister. It might interest him to know that UK exports of seed potatoes to non-EU markets increased by 25% between 2018 and 2021, and last year nearly 90% of all UK seed potato exports were to non-EU countries, supported by recent trade agreements with Egypt and Morocco. The DIT Scotland team, based in Edinburgh, as he knows well, works closely with the Scottish Government and their agencies to ensure that Scottish companies are supported to pursue opportunities for their products in new markets.

The number of food and farming businesses in my constituency is not high, but none the less they are really important. They include businesses such as Backyard Brewhouse, a craft brewery. British farming is renowned for its high-quality produce, so what is my hon. Friend’s Department doing to take advantage of this and do all it can to promote our exceptional British produce?

If my right hon. Friend were to invite me, I would be delighted to visit the Backyard Brewhouse in Brownhills. British food and drink are among the best in the world, renowned for their quality and provenance. DIT is delivering an incredibly successful programme of activity for our exports, matching our producers with international buyers. We are placing eight new dedicated agrifood attachés in growth markets around the world.

What more is my hon. Friend hoping to deliver to ensure that our great British produce carries “Brand Britain,” through national and regional UK geographical indicators to an international stage in existing and future free trade arrangements?

I thank my hon. Friend for what she does for the food producers of North Devon. We have fantastic British produce, with protected geographical indications, such as Welsh lamb, Scotch whisky and Stilton, which are promoted and recognised around the globe through the GREAT Britain & Northern Ireland campaign, and at home through our “Made in the UK, Sold to the World” marketing strategy. This supports small and medium-sized enterprises to understand and access the benefits of FTAs and wider export opportunities and future success stories from all parts of the UK. I would be delighted to meet her to discuss what more we can do to support exports from North Devon and, indeed, the rest of the UK.

Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. As we have heard, trade barriers are a problem for seed potato growers, and yesterday the International Trade Committee heard that the biggest change that a Government could introduce to get rid of these and help the UK economy would be to rejoin the customs union and single market. How much do the Government care about the UK economy?

I thank my hon. Friend—the hon. Member for that question. This Government care passionately about the UK economy. It might interest the hon. Member to know that the EU remains a vital trading partner for the UK. Contrary to the claim that trade with the EU has collapsed, Office for National Statistics figures show that total trade in goods and services between the UK and the EU was worth £652.6 billion in the year to June. That is up by 18%.

British farmers could lose out on up to £148 million-worth of growth owing to the New Zealand trade deal, according to a report by the International Trade Committee. A report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said that British farmers could lose out on up to £278 million-worth of growth owing to the Australia trade deal. What is the Minister going to do to address those huge potential losses?

As the hon. Member is aware, in our negotiations with New Zealand and Australia we have ensured that there are huge protections for British food and farming, including a long period of transition to allow the market to adapt. We are committed to promoting and driving up exports of British produce overseas, as well as to ensuring that the great British produce we deliver at home is protected.

If you want to enter into the Christmas spirit, Mr Speaker, I would recommend a dram of Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish or Old Pulteney. It is a widely recognised fact that the highland single malts are the best whiskies in the world. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister is an Aberdeenshire man, will he make sure that sales of those whiskies are pushed very strongly?

I would be very pleased to visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and try all those fine whiskies. I had a meeting with the Scotch Whisky Association just last week. It is very excited about the current trajectory of Scotch whisky sales overseas, and very, very excited about what we are doing in India to reduce tariffs on Scotch whisky so that we can further promote that fantastic Scottish export around the world.

According to the Centre for Business Prosperity, more than 40% of products such as shellfish and seed potatoes are no longer exported to European markets, for want of a veterinary agreement with the EU—yet the Government do nothing. I know that exports in ex-Prime Ministers’ speeches have increased recently, thanks to the efforts of Ministers, but why will they not act now to negotiate a veterinary agreement, which would be transformational for British farmers, thousands of British businesses and the British food industry in particular?

This negativity about our export position with the European Union is precisely why so many people are turned off from the Labour party and have been for such a long time. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said, trade with the EU is actually up by 18%. The veterinary agreement would involve dynamic alignment with the EU, which I believe the Labour party is opposed to; the hon. Gentleman might want to correct the record. In terms of overall relations with the EU, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy is engaging every single day with our European partners to see what we can do to drive down trade barriers further, so that we can promote British exports on the continent. Notwithstanding that, we are looking for new export opportunities in emerging markets around the world.

The New Zealand trade deal will mean an expected £150 million hit to agriculture and food-related industries each year. An impact analysis shows that the Australia trade deal will mean an expected £94 million hit to farming and a £225 million hit to food processing each year. On top of that, UK food and drink exports to the EU have already fallen, despite what the Minister says, by more than £1.3 billion, because of the Brexit deal that this Government signed. Given that mounting charge sheet, how can farmers and food producers in this country ever again trust a word that the Tories say?

We will take no lectures from the SNP on supporting Scottish farmers and food producers. It is not the UK Government who are accused of operating in an information void due to the lack of information and slow progress of Scotland’s post-Brexit agricultural Bill. It is not the UK Government who were criticised by the National Farmers Union of Scotland for not voting for the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill a couple of weeks ago. This Government are committed to supporting Scottish, and indeed British, food producers and exporters, not creating division and stoking negativity, which is all the SNP ever brings to the table.

I think Aberdeenshire farmers will take that with a large pinch of salt. The Secretary of State says that she is a huge believer in British farming and the role it plays in our national life. She wrote an article a few years ago on fears about the impact of opening up our markets on domestic producers such as farmers. In the light of all that, how long does the Minister seriously think it will be before he and his colleagues trigger the mechanisms to bring an end to these disastrous trade deals with Australia and New Zealand?

The trade deals with New Zealand and Australia are great deals for British exporters and this country. As I said, unlike the Scottish National party, we are committed to championing Scottish and British exports and food and drink around the world, not creating negativity. It is time that the hon. Gentleman championed great British exporters—great Aberdeenshire exporters—instead of coming here with all that scare- mongering and negativity, as he does weekly.