In a letter to the secretary of state for international trade, Liz Truss MP, Scotland’s farming, food and drink associations have called for more scrutiny and industry engagement for all Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

The letter, signed by the heads of 14 industry organisations, asks the secretary of state to progress a number of issues – as a matter of urgency – regarding the current FTA negotiations between the UK and Australia.

Stating that the signatories welcomed an ambitious trade policy, the letter noted: ‘We recognise the UK government’s desire to move quickly to create new opportunities with nations beyond the EU. However, we are concerned that the pace of these negotiations, particularly the Free Trade Agreement with Australia, is too quick and denying the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny and consultation.

‘Trade deals are complex, and markets are sensitive; the impact of the Brexit deal has demonstrated this.

‘The risks here are enormous for the whole food and drink supply chain and, in the absence of any formal impact assessment to suggest the contrary, we remain hugely concerned at the impact on sensitive sectors of our industry.’

‘A more rigorous and meaningful process’

The letter laid out three issues that the signatories believe must be addressed as a matter of urgency:

  • ‘We ask that you establish a more rigorous and meaningful process of engagement and consultation with industry around all Free Trade Agreements, starting immediately in respect of Australia. Currently, we feel extremely disconnected to the process and are concerned that agreements are reached without full knowledge of the implications, both positive and negative, for the agriculture and wider food sector.’ 
  • We urge you to publish your response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report and move quickly to implement the recommendations, particularly in relation to putting it on a statutory footing. The Commission should have a critical role in scrutinising all potential Free Trade Agreements and, in doing so, at a point in the process that is meaningful and prior to FTAs being signed and ratified.  This will help ensure that any agreement upholds and protects our environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.’
  • ‘We ask that you urgently undertake a rigorous assessment of the cumulative impact of all the Free Trade Agreements that you are seeking to negotiate, with a particular focus on Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. All agreements will have different implications for different sectors across the food and drink industry and it is therefore vital that we are able to understand the full implications rather than looking at individual agreements in isolation.’

After referring to the challenges facing the Scottish food industry posed by Covid-19 and Brexit, the letter continued: ‘In addition, our producers who supply the UK market are already operating in one of the most competitive retail and foodservice markets anywhere in the world, with margins under considerable and constant pressure. 

‘What we must therefore avoid is compounding these challenges further by creating irreparable intended and unintended consequences for our industry as a result of trade deals.’

The letter was signed by the heads of Scotland Food and Drink, NFU Scotland, Scottish Seafood Association, Quality Meat Scotland, National Sheep Association Scotland, SAOS, Scottish Crofting Federation, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Road Haulage Association, Scottish Pig Producers, Scottish Wholesalers Association, Agrico UK, First Milk and Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland.