Key questions that need answers to restore trust in government trade deal - Brian Henderson

Trust is always mentioned as one of the truly important features in any business arrangement.

Boris Johnson hails a tariff-free agriculture trade deal wit Australia amid a Backlash from UK farming

But with the growth in American-style litigation, big business and the corporate world have in recent years moved towards leaving few loopholes or loose ends when conducting business and finalising financial commitments.

So farming probably finds itself one of the last remaining bastions where trust plays a big element in transactions – be it buying a new tractor, signing up for a grain contract or selling stock through an auction ring, there remains a strong understanding in the old approach that a gentleman’s word is his bond.

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True, the recent collapse of one of the country’s larger grain merchants might well be seeing that faith challenged amongst those who are now faced with registering as creditors in the hope they might get some of the sums they are due back through the administrators.

But, across the industry as a whole, while the traditional handshake is currently outlawed, day to day transactions largely continue with the nod of the head, a verbal commitment or a quick telephone call.

So, you might be forgiven for asking why there’s such a big hoo-ha going on over the UK Government’s behind-closed-doors “sprint” towards a free trade deal with Australia – for, after all, has the industry not been given numerous assurances that the ruling party in Westminster will look after us and ensure we don’t end up suffering as a result of having to comply with hugely demanding environmental and welfare burdens while the floodgates are opened to the import of cheap food which doesn’t meet the same standards?

Could it be that our trust in the current Government’s willingness to live up to its promises of avoiding a ‘race to the bottom’ falls below that which we have in most other organisations?

Well, taking a look around, and given the recent experiences of anyone trying to export to Europe or trade across Northern Ireland’s sea border – to say nothing of all the other discredited slogans on the side of the Brexit bus - it seems understandable that we might have some doubts over the reliability of any UK Government promises around a UK/Australian ‘oven-ready’ trade deal.

Just because we’re trusting doesn’t mean we’re stupid.

So, with the Government apparently intent on slipping the deal through before the much promised statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) has been set up to vet such agreements, what does it need to do to qualm the industry’s fears?

For, even if it’s phased in over 15 years, farmers simply can’t see how such a free trade deal would be in line with the Government’s own stated policy of protecting our standards of production if it’s not subjected to the required scrutiny of the TAC.

And, as the first deal will surely set the precedent for all the future ones to come, everyone seeking to do business with the UK in the future will want in on the same terms.

So, the industry has been raising some really detailed questions which need to be answered about the secret trade negotiations - which, by the UK Government’s own admission, would only amount to a pimple in improving the country’s GDP - but which would threaten to wipe out our industry.

These rather fundamental questions on proposed Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) include:

What specific meaningful safeguards for domestic agriculture will be included in our FTAs?

What is the government’s plan to continually review the impact of our FTAs as they are implemented and through the lifetime of the agreements?

Where is the comprehensive and cross-government strategy to improve productivity and competitiveness and to provide adjustment assistance for farming in respect to the changing market conditions resulting from new FTAs?

Where is the government’s response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report in March 2021 and why has the new statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission that will need to scrutinise trade deals before they are signed not yet been set up?

What precedent does the government expect will be set by each FTA and where is the detailed economic assessment of the cumulative impact on domestic UK agriculture of all the UK’s current and future FTAs?

Questions designed to get to the truth, I’m sure you’ll agree.

So Boris et al, if you want to see our trust in Government restored, answers on a postcard please – rather than the side of a bus…

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