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Trade Policy: Food Prices

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 15 December 2022

The UK’s trade policy works to increase access to good quality, good value food from around the world. For example, our recent free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand reduce or remove tariffs on the vast majority of goods, which could help to lower prices. However, there are many factors which contribute to UK food prices and the precise impact of each is uncertain. Beyond immediate price changes, security of global food supply is essential to guarantee the availability and affordability of UK food in the long term.

That is all well and good, but a new report from the UK in a Changing Europe think tank has said that new trade barriers as a result of Brexit have caused a 6% increase in food prices in the UK. Asked why food prices are rising, the former chief executive officer of Sainsburys, Justin King, answered “Brexit”, and this month a Bank of England policy maker went on the record to say that,

“Brexit has fuelled a surge in UK food prices”.

Does the Minister agree that staying in the EU kept food prices low and that independence and the European Union would keep prices down?

I am always interested when the hon. Gentleman cites various reports, many of which I have of course read and studied closely, but I like to return to the facts. I checked beforehand, because I thought he might raise this. He is right that food price inflation is a real concern, and yesterday’s inflation data showed that food prices are still rising even though overall inflation is falling, which will cause difficulties for many countries across this country. However, the premise of his question is not quite right: in the UK, the most recent data available shows that food and non-alcoholic beverage prices rose by 16.4%, whereas in the EU27, for the same period, they rose by more—17.3%.

In this House I have been a champion for promoting the availability of affordable, healthy and nutritious food to those from all regions of the UK and all backgrounds. Families are feeling the cost of living pressures, as evidenced by research from the British Retail Consortium, which recorded a record high 12.5% inflation in UK food prices in November. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that he is doing everything in his power through his trade negotiations to mitigate the effect of food price inflation on ordinary working families?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is right to raise, as I did just a moment ago, the importance of this issue to families up and down the country, including in Stoke-on-Trent. The Government have comprehensive measures in place to support families through this winter, including council tax discounts, and energy and further help. On food and trade policy, ensuring that we remain committed to free trade, and that we have diverse sources of supply, is essential. We must ensure that Britain remains open for food exporters to come to the UK and help to keep prices down, as well as recognising the vital job done by our own domestic agriculture and food production sectors.