DUP MP Carla Lockhart (pictured right) has called on the Government to ensure future trade deals protect the high food production, animal welfare and environmental standards that our UK agri-food industry adheres to.
The DUP Westminster Agriculture spokesperson said: “It is vital that as we shape our future trade policy, we do so in a way that maximises the benefits of Brexit and of our new-found independence, but that we do not sacrifice key industries within the UK to do so.
“In the context of an economy facing the greatest challenges in my lifetime due to Covid-19, we are certainly not in a place where we can sacrifice any industry. It is not too long ago that we debated the Agriculture Bill and in my contribution to that debate I made clear the importance of protecting British farming and the high standards it upholds in any future Trade Agreement. The opportunity to enshrine all that is good about our agriculture industry was not taken at that time. That was deeply regrettable and the source of great concern to many of my constituents.
“So, in this Bill, we have another opportunity. An opportunity to make clear to those farmers and agri-food businesses that have been an essential component in the national effort against coronavirus, that they will not be sacrificed in future trade agreements.
“Indeed, we ought to be exploring how we can help the industry thrive in the coming years and to share in the benefits of life outside the EU.
“To do so the fundamental building block is standards. In the context of our agriculture industry, future trade policy must respect domestic production standards in terms of animal welfare and environmental measures.
“We know this comes at considerable cost to local farmers, and that overseas farmers have significant cost of production advantages due to lower regulatory requirements. Consumers do not wish to see these standards drop. Government should ensure this does not happen.
“To this end the establishment of a Trade and Agriculture Standards Commissioner is very welcome and I also want to thank the Secretary of State for ensuring the voice of the Northern Ireland agriculture industry is heard by appointing the incoming President of the UFU, Victor Chestnutt, to this body.
“On top of this forum however we also need to ensure Parliament has a strong voice and a meaningful say in the shape of future trade agreements. That say should be around the mandating, negotiation principles and approval of any such deals.
“Our role should be a pro-active one, not passive. Ahead of negotiations it should be for Parliament to also scope out the critical negotiation objectives, and that the interests of all parts of the UK are being actively considered and prioritised. To this end, the devolved administrations should also have a meaningful role.
“These trade deals offer huge opportunities for our country but do not come without risk. Getting them right is vital.”