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Benefits from new trade agreements extremely uncertain while risks of slipping standards, increased costs and revenue losses remain

18 March 2022

In its report today the Public Accounts Committee says “there is no guarantee” that the new international trade agreements being negotiated by the Department for International Trade “will deliver actual economic benefits” and it remains opaque and secretive about the deals it is negotiating – publishing its own “impact assessments” of new trade deals prior to implementation but not setting any associated targets or providing the information to Parliament and the public to allow them to assess the practical, real-world impact of the new deals, or if the interests of businesses and the public are actually being served.

The PAC casts further doubt on the benefits that might actually be realised in the new trade deals unless DIT “provides vital support to help businesses use the agreements, particularly for smaller businesses wanting to export worldwide.”

It says DIT must “ensure that its approach to trade has coherence and that there is sufficient clarity about how government is making trade-offs across different policy areas, such as agriculture, the environment and human rights.”

In particular, in the strategically critical agriculture sector, UK farmers are concerned about competition from imported products including beef and lamb, and the environmental impact of increased trade with countries at a distance from the UK remains uncertain. 

Deputy Chair's comments

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The Department for International Trade seems to have forgotten that its first and core duty is to deliver for UK consumers, business and our environment - to create deals that will deliver real economic benefits while offering the choice of food, goods and services at the standards and prices they expect and have long enjoyed. The PAC has previously expressed concerns that our consumer protection system is unable to deal with the new arrangements, and recent reports of tax fraud and modern slavery breaches cast doubt on capability in other critical parts of the trade system. 

The Department needs to communicate what benefits we might expect from this brave new world we’ve entered and what trade-offs we face. The Department is really struggling to point to tangible wins for British business, consumers or our own agriculture sector - even as the pandemic and energy price crises demonstrate the critical importance of robust trade arrangements. DIT is constrained by the deliberations and choices of our biggest trading partners - this is a problem of its own making, and for it to fix: families struggling out of the pandemic and into a massive cost-of-living crisis must not be the ones to pay. As well as negotiating new FTAs the Department must concentrate more on enabling small and medium-size companies to export, often for the first time.”

Further information

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