Opinion

Letter to the editor: TAC report ‘is a fig leaf for government to hide behind’

I’m concerned that the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) report, launched March 2, 2021, is merely a fig leaf for the UK government to hide behind.

In the meantime, the UK’s agricultural industry faces being eviscerated by a lack of meaningful support and risks being left increasingly vulnerable to the whims of an unstable, imbalanced world food market.

The UK government and the commission should be supporting sectors ‘of strength’ in UK agriculture; those that deliver added value; have clear standards set in international law; represent export opportunities; support rural jobs; and deliver environmental stewardship, such as organics – a proven system which is by and large overlooked in the report.

‘The platitudes presented start to unravel’

Sadly, on closer scrutiny, the platitudes presented start to unravel.

The report appears to support maintaining standards and liberalising trade through the reduction of tariffs, so long as the food imported is equivalent to UK standards.

However, it states the government is continuing to negotiate a number of free trade agreements, such as with New Zealand, Australia and the US.

That changing course with these negotiations would bring up challenges, so the aspiration to ensure imports are produced to an equivalent standard to the UK has to be a medium-to-long-term goal.

This is simply a case of ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’, given the US is one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters with wildly diverging standards – in some cases – to ourselves and shows how hollow the whole thing is.

It’s a thinly veiled attempt to suggest food import and export standards will be maintained in the longer-term.

By insisting UK farmers must maintain standards and compete globally without any trade protection appears to be throwing UK agriculture to the wolves.

By Roger Kerr, chief executive, Organic Farmers & Growers