New Zealand trade deal: MPs call for analysis of risk to UK food security
24 October 2022
The International Trade Committee today calls for an analysis of potential risks to the UK’s food security arising from the New Zealand trade deal.
In a new report on the UK’s trade agreement with New Zealand, the cross-party Committee of MPs raises concerns over the elimination of tariffs on New Zealand goods and the impact of opening UK agri-food markets to cheaper imports.
Much of New Zealand’s beef, sheep-meat and dairy are cheaper than those produced in the UK due to lower production costs.
With the Government’s impact assessment predicting that the UK’s agriculture, forestry, fishing, and semi-processed food sectors could contract due to increased competition, the Committee questions whether the pros and cons of tariff liberalisation have been fully considered.
While concluding that, on balance, the agreement should be ratified, the Committee outlines that it presents few new opportunities for UK exporters, and suggests more export opportunities or greater safeguards for the sector could have been negotiated.
The MPs criticise the absence of a single, unifying Government trade strategy and call for the publication of a clearly defined vision for trade, showing how it balances different priorities in the best interests of consumers and businesses. The Government’s approach to negotiating new deals is characterised as reactive and hasty, and not joined-up across departments. The Committee notes that current Treasury plans to raise taxes on higher-alcohol content beverages could negate measures in the agreement aimed at reducing the price of New Zealand wines.
The Committee also expresses shock that the UK is signing trade deals without thoroughly understanding how they interact with the Northern Ireland Protocol. MPs call on the Government to provide reassurance on how agreements between the UK, the EU and New Zealand will interact so that Northern Ireland can benefit from the trade deal in the same way as the rest of the UK.
The report calls for MPs to be given the opportunity to debate the agreement during the Parliamentary scrutiny period, with the ability to show their support, or otherwise, for it through a vote.
The Committee welcomes the provisions on high animal welfare standards, antimicrobial resistance and consumer protection, and the Government’s continued work to assess the environmental impact of trade deals more accurately.
International Trade Committee Chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, said:
“Throwing open UK agri-food markets to cheaper goods has caused understandable disquiet among producers. Our report reflects these concerns. The Government has forged ahead on a deal creating new challenges which may bring cheaper food for consumers, but also potentially threatens our nation’s food security during a cost of living crisis. Given the deal will add just 0.02 per cent to the UK’s GDP, the Government must show how they have balanced these risks, and what they will do to support those who don’t benefit from this deal.
“We are running the risk of locking our beef, sheep-meat and dairy producers into a contest they never sought without support or protection, with competitors able to place them at a serious disadvantage, and at a time of immense challenge for consumers and businesses. These are issues that MPs must have a chance to debate on the floor of the House of Commons.”
Key findings and recommendations
Agriculture and food
The Government appears to have made significant concessions in terms of tariff liberalisation on agri-food products which, as it acknowledges in its impact assessment, are likely to create an economic contraction for some sectors. We echo agri-food producers' concerns about opening the UK market to cheaper imports without either more export opportunities or sufficient safeguards. The Government must explain why it has chosen to liberalise tariffs on agri-food so quickly, as the agreement appears to offer few new opportunities for UK producers (Paragraph 88).
We recognise that New Zealand agri-food imports, which may be cheaper than UK produce, may benefit consumers, particularly during the cost of living crisis, and that the relatively low carbon intensity of New Zealand's production methods may be beneficial to the environment. However, we are concerned that the Government has not adequately considered the longer-term food security risks that the agreement may present (Paragraph 94).
The Government should publish an analysis of the risks to the UK’s food security arising from the agreement and how these can be mitigated. It should also include an analysis of any additional risks to UK food security, explaining how these are balanced against other considerations, such as cost and the environment, in future impact assessments (Paragraph 95).
It is shocking that the Government has signed trade agreements without a thorough understanding of the impact they will have on Northern Ireland because of the Protocol. We welcome the willingness to look again at this issue that the former Secretary of State showed, and note that the Government has said it will develop a workplan in order to do so. In light of this, we ask the Government to tell us what the workplan involves and whether it will be in place in time to inform the impact assessments for the trade agreements the Government is currently negotiating (Paragraph 52).
The Government must clarify how the UK-New Zealand agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol and the EU-New Zealand agreement will interact so that people in Northern Ireland can benefit from trade with New Zealand (Paragraph 53).
We are resolved that each new trade agreement should be debated on a substantive motion in the House of Commons during the 21 sitting day period provided for under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRaG). We recommend that the House should be given the opportunity to debate the UK-New Zealand agreement during the CRaG period, and that this must be on a substantive motion so that MPs can demonstrate their support and be able to table amendments (Paragraph 10).
We remain concerned about the absence of a single, clear trade strategy. Without a trade strategy there is no marker against which we, stakeholders or the public can assess how far trade agreements, individually and collectively, help to deliver the UK's strategic requirements. We are also concerned that the Government's approach to negotiating new agreements is reactive and hasty, and that it is not joined-up across each department. We ask the Government to reconsider its approach and publish a trade strategy which clearly sets out its vision for trade and explains how the Government will achieve it (Paragraph 23).
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