Real battle on trade and how it will affect Welsh farming is yet to come - Ben Lake


The General Election on 12 December will undoubtedly focus on the UK’s exit from the EU, but the real battle on trade and how it will affect Welsh farming is yet to come, says Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru’s parliamentary candidate in Ceredigion.

As a member of the EU, the UK abides by a set of regulatory standards – a series of sanitary and phytosanitary measures – on issues affecting farming, food production and processing.

This regulatory alignment facilitates trade between EU Member States by removing non-tariff barriers. Divergence from these standards could therefore introduce greater friction to our trade with EU partners, and given they are currently the destination for over 80% of Welsh red meat exports, such a development would have significant consequences for our continued access to such an important market.


Ben Lake said:

“The question of whether the UK will remain aligned to the EU or not in terms of standards will loom large in the coming months, and the answer will largely determine the prospects of Wales’ food and drink exports for a generation.

“Once a new Government is formed in Westminster - whatever its colour - the subject of trade deals will almost certainly gain prominence. In addition to discussing tariff schedules and tariff rate quotas, due consideration must also be given to the importance of regulatory alignment to reduce friction with trading partners.”

The prospect of a trade deal with the United States raises important questions about the standards with which we will expect our agricultural industry to abide. The risk is that a cut and run deal with the US could come at the price of lowering the UK’s standards of production or forcing our farmers to compete with goods produced to lower standards. Leading figures from both the US government and industry have made this condition clear. US Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, told business leaders in 2017 that changing food safety regulations would be a ‘critical component of any trade discussion’, and that the UK should take steps to remove ‘unnecessary regulatory divergences’ with the US.

If the UK were to decide to allow the lowering of standards in order to compete with the US, this would impact on our ability to export to the EU, and consequently on the incomes of Welsh farmers. NFU President Minette Batters has pushed for the establishment of a trade and standards commission to ensure that future UK trade policy does not undermine our high environmental and animal welfare standards, or put our farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

Ben Lake added:

“Questions of regulatory alignment and trade policy are far from straightforward, and present an array of difficult trade offs to consider. We must guard against the temptation to rush into short-term decisions that might inflict long-term harm on our agricultural sector. Calm, considered scrutiny will bring about real progress and if I’m fortunate enough to be re-elected I shall be arguing that UK trade policy must ensure that our current high standards of production are valued, and that when it comes to imports our farmers are guaranteed a level playing field.” 

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