Tim Smith is chairman of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, set up to advise on trade deals with regards to food standards. Here he explains the role and aims of the new body
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 40 years in the food industry, it’s that the UK is a nation of food lovers. Food isn’t simply some transactional experience. It’s about so much more and close to all our hearts.
That’s what I have also found leading the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) for the government, as we look at how best to support farmers, food producers, retailers and consumers through future trade policy and trade agreements.
Our starting point is simple. The TAC is committed to a UK trade policy that creates a fair and safe food and farming system for all, with no race to the bottom or backsliding on standards. We have spent decades developing and honing our world-leading standards, and there will be no turning back the clock.
Some view our membership as not broad enough to represent producer and consumer interests equitably. I would challenge that view. Our members, and those in our working groups, have a wealth of expertise between them, spanning farming, food production, retail and hospitality, animal welfare, the environment, sustainability, trade policy and international development.
Over the past five months, we’ve been looking collectively at how we can best ensure that the farming and food sectors remain competitive in the global marketplace, how we protect British standards and values, and that consumers can continue to enjoy the widest choice of food at affordable prices.
We’ve spoken to hundreds of farmers, large and small businesses, civil society organisations, unions and consumer groups across the UK. We’ve heard first hand their determination to uphold the highest standards in farming and food production, and their excitement about new markets for top-quality British food and drink.
It’s been clear to us that across the UK, the passion, commitment and innovation of our food producers should never be questioned and that we that owe it to them to get our job done. We’ve heard also how vital the farming sector is to the wellbeing of rural communities and to preserving ecological balance across the landscape.
We’ve heard, too, real concern that the prospect of future imports of agricultural produce and food, produced at lower cost and with lower standards than we have in the UK, will make it harder to compete on a level playing field and threaten livelihoods across the UK. That simply isn’t fair.
There is no doubting the strong public support for maintaining the UK’s high standards and the values, which underpin our success, setting us apart from our competitors.
We will reflect on everything we have heard. Our report will be a thorough assessment of the issues that matter most to the UK agricultural and food sectors.
We will set out principles and a strategy for a clear and ambitious international trade policy, which increases opportunities for farmers and food producers at home and overseas, and drives up international standards.
Our report will also pave the way for the future Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will provide independent and expert scrutiny of trade deals, and give farmers and consumers a stronger voice.
The road ahead could be bumpy. We won’t get everything we want. But if we are bold, committed and work together we can achieve a great future for our agriculture and food industries.