Andrew Bowie is MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.
I grew up in Aberdeenshire – surrounded by some of the best farmland in the United Kingdom; home to some of the best produce in the world. The highest quality beef, lamb and malting barley was produced, quite literally, on my doorstep. Sitting now, as the Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, I am proud to represent these famers, the guardians of our countryside, the producers of our food and drink, in Parliament.
And as a Conservative, I am also proud to support our Government and stand behind its commitment to have 80 per cent of our trade covered by free trade agreements. This means that Aberdeenshire, Scottish and indeed British produce – salmon, beef, lamb, whisky and so much more could and should be enjoyed in every corner of the world.
British farmers in particular have so many opportunities ahead of them: we have a £66 million opportunity for beef in the US, but it could be even bigger if tariffs of up to 26 per cent were dropped. As for British lamb, it’s currently banned from the US. Just a three per cent market share represent an £18 million opportunity. I want to see the great produce we make here in the UK, enjoyed across the world with all the benefits that can bring for British farmers and producers.
But too often, these opportunities and benefits that these deals might bring are drowned out amidst the noise, nonsense and mistruth peddled about the Government preparing to lower our import standards and undercut, “sell out” British farmers.
It is simply not true and utterly misses the point about the enormous economic benefit that free trade deals can bring to the farming industry and the British people. Indeed, it is our very high standards and quality of our produce that makes it so attractive to the outside world.
We will always stand full square behind our farmers. And we will strain every sinew to enable farmers make the most of these new and exciting opportunities. And we will not allow our fabulous producers to be undermined due to their high standards. British farmers are, and will remain, competitive.
That is why I am delighted to see that today, Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for Trade, has announced there will be a Trade and Agriculture Commission to provide expert advice in setting our agricultural trade policy.
The Government has listened and engaged, with the industry. We recognise and understand the concerns they have. It has listened to the National Farmers Union’s across England, Wales and Scotland, as well as the Ulster Farmers Union in Northern Ireland. We are determined to get this right for our whole United Kingdom.
And we agree that any trade deals the UK negotiates must be fair and reciprocal to our farmers; it must not compromise on our high standards. We are fighting for the interests of our farming community in every agreement that we negotiate.
As a newly independent nation, freed of the restrictions placed on us by the European Union and the Common Agricultural Policy, we are deciding the shape of our own agricultural trade policy for the first time in over 40 years. This needs to consider the views of consumers and farmers to ensure that we have a sustainable and thriving agricultural industry. A Trade and Agriculture Commission can bring these voices together.
Like ConservativeHome’s readers I do not support generating additional layers of bureaucracy. That is why the Commission will not be another quango or regulator.
It will have a clear set of objectives and be strictly time-limited. Once the Commission has finished its work, it will produce a report that will be presented to Parliament by the Department of International Trade.
The Commission will look at how we can ensure fair competition for British farmers in our trade agreements, while protecting consumers and developing nations. It will advise on how we can use the WTO to advocate for higher animal welfare standards internationally and identify export opportunities for UK farmers. It will advise on the best way forward for UK agriculture.
We must make the most of our new lease of freedom and strike trade deals far and wide and spread our produce to every corner of the earth. We’re Great Britain and we believe in free, and fair, trade. We’re just getting started.