An increased role for the UK parliament in protecting food standards in future trade deals has been welcomed by Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) but they have said the role requires further clarity on its implementation.

SLE made the comments ahead of the latest House of Commons debate on the UK Agriculture Bill.

Following votes in the House of Lords in late-October, MPs will be asked to vote on amendments requiring equivalence in agri-imports to be a negotiating factor in future trade deals and the new Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) to submit reports on international trade agreements and their effect on farming for parliamentary scrutiny.

However, the UK government has put forward its own amendments to replace those from the Lords, including making the new Trade and Agriculture Commission a statutory body.

Policy Adviser (Agriculture) at SLE Eleanor Kay said:

We have been vocal in the need to protect Britain’s high standards in food production and we supported the recent amendments to the bill voted upon in the House of Lords.

“It would appear the UK government’s proposals are an acceptable alternative, but we really need to see the detail to gain further clarity on this.”

‘We are concerned’

Kay continued:

Under the government proposals, we are concerned that parliamentary involvement in trade deals occurs relatively late in the day and realistically there will be little chance for parliament to make changes at this late stage.

“Other trading partners will have oversight of the objectives of trade negotiations before those negotiations begin. Waiting until an agreement has been reached before providing detail to parliament misses the opportunity for early scrutiny.

“We are pleased to see the government commitment to move the TAC from a temporary six month period to a permanent statutory footing.

As part of this, the TAC will produce a report on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture of each new free trade deal the government signs after the EU transition period ends. We welcome this and believe it to be an important development.

“We do remain concerned, however, about the membership of this committee, noting that it lacks any environmental or consumer voices.

“This is something we believe the government should examine to provide confidence to a range of different stakeholders,” Kay concluded.