Global Britain – is it about to become a reality?

OPINION: Former New Zealand Minister for Agriculture and Trade and former UK High Commissioner Lockwood Smith was the only non-UK member of the UK Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), tasked by Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss to seek to find a way forward for Britain to support trade liberalization, while ensuring that British standards are not compromised.

Whatever its strengths or weaknesses, the UK does matter. Member of the G7, G20 and host of COP26 this year, it is a major player. UK business strategy is important.

But if UK political leaders want a smart global trade strategy to be implemented, charting the way ahead has its challenges. Some of the most difficult of these are in agriculture and the agri-food sector.

The UK public fears that liberalizing agricultural trade could jeopardize its high standards for food safety, animal welfare, the environment and human rights, not to mention undermining the UK’s work on climate change. Political leaders have pledged that trade strategy will not undermine these deeply held priorities.

The fact that British agriculture is emerging just 40 years under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy makes the problem even more complex. Its inherently protectionist nature was hardly the best preparation for an industry on the verge of entering the competitive international market.

The TAC report to the UK Secretary of Commerce contains an interesting innovation. The proposal has the potential to advance global trade and avoid stifling ideas such as carbon taxes at the border or double tariff rates exant to cope with different production standards.

Essentially, the proposal would see food safety, plant and animal health and biosecurity issues identified as currently under the WTO SPS Agreement.

It shouldn’t be difficult to allay UK consumer concerns on these issues, as the SPS deal has proven to work.

More difficult are questions relating to production methods, such as animal welfare, the environment, labor and human rights, and now climate concerns. TAC’s proposal would see the UK, in negotiating free trade agreements in the future, provide open access over time to the UK market where trading partners agree to meet internationally recognized standards in these areas. so important to UK consumers.

When, in a free trade agreement, a trading partner has accepted certain standards of animal welfare, the environment, human rights and ethical trade, but fails to enforce those standards, thereby reducing the standards. production costs and creating a market distortion, the UK would be empowered to impose a corrective tariff on this product.

The amount of the corrective tariff would be proportionate to the damage inflicted on local producers by the market distortion created by the trading partner. It would only apply to the product in question and, as it was part of an FTA, could be applied quickly on clear evidence and removed when the problem, or market distortion, was corrected.

If the UK adopted this proposal, it would show the whole world that it was speaking out about its aspiration for a world Britain. This would show the world that it is ready to liberalize key markets, even agriculture, but in a way that gives its own producers confidence that they will not compete with products produced to lower standards than agreed upon. in trade agreements.

With climate change still a major issue in the minds of the world, this mechanism can offer a way to deal with countries that do not meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement, which can gain a competitive advantage. .

This would incentivize trading partners to meet their climate change commitments and, by avoiding carbon taxes at the border, would make it easier to continue production in countries where their comparative advantage might be more carbon efficient systems.

The two-pronged approach is fundamental to this policy – that the UK will open its market to trading partners must agree to implement internationally recognized standards, or the equivalent thereof, as required by the UK -United.

Applied wisely, the proposition has merit; the UK is now able to broadcast it to the world.

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