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Trade Policies: Cost of Food

Volume 737: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

Food prices are driven by many pressures, including the global economic climate. We recognise the important role that trade can play in improving food security through diversification of supply chains. Our programme of free trade agreements is securing access to global supply chains, removing barriers and lowering costs for traders. Furthermore, in 2022, 84% of agricultural and food imports entered the UK tariff-free. By delivering trade deals and working with international partners, we are ensuring that British consumers have access to good-quality and good-value food.

Will the Minister explain how the Government’s plans for a £43 inspection fee on each consignment of food imported from the European Union represent barrier-free trade? Can she tell small food retailers, restaurants and their customers in Glasgow North when or whether they will have to pay this Brexit tax and the higher prices it will lead to? Can she also remind the House whether higher food prices as a result of Brexit were part of the Leave campaign prospectus?

I know the hon. Member wants to put all these anxieties on Brexit and forget about all the opportunities we are securing with trade agreements around the world. The issue he raises fundamentally sits at the doorstep of the Cabinet Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and we are working very closely with them to resolve it.

As if the future stoking of inflation through extra Brexit red tape was not bad enough, businesses are already having to cope with uncertainty, the lack of a level playing field and the threat to our own food safety and security through the failure to introduce checks of our own. Given that Ministers were saying as recently as April that those checks will begin on 31 March, can the Minister explain how businesses are expected to get to grips with all this turmoil in Government policy given their tendency to keep kicking the can down the road over border checks?

Food inflation is a global issue: it is not a problem just here in the UK. Many factors influence food prices globally, notably energy costs. Global wholesale food prices have been falling since March and sometimes that can take time to reach consumers. In July, UK food inflation was just over 14%, down from 17%. The hon. Gentleman did not specify which issue he was touching on, but if it was to do with sanitary and phytosanitary controls for goods from the EU, that will be introduced and in place by 31 January 2024.

The Government could stop making existing global problems even worse when they apply to the UK—I was following up on the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) about the cost of checks on imported food—but the only thing worse than bad border checks is no border checks at all. We are no longer imposing SPS checks on food coming in from the EU. Is the Minister proud that, under the guise of taking back control, she is part of a Government who have given away control instead?

I referenced in my previous response the SPS controls; they were not in place when we were in the EU so I am not sure exactly what the hon. Gentleman’s anxiety is.