A NEW Trade and Agriculture Commission is to be established by the UK Government, to advise on how animal welfare and food production standards should be protected in post-Brexit trade deals.

Following concerns from the public and agricultural bodies that Britain’s food and farming standards might be undermined during trade negotiations with the US in particular, the secretary of state for International Trade, Liz Truss, announced the creation of a Trade and Agriculture Commission to oversee government policy and ensure that future trade deals will be ‘fair and reciprocal’ to farmers.

However, the new commission will only be an advisory body – it’s recommendations will be presented to Parliament, to be considered alongside other factors. So, amongst the industry welcomes for the move, there were already calls for the government to ‘genuinely listen’ to the new body.

National Sheep Association chief executive, Phil Stocker, noted that details were yet to be pinned down: “This is a really good starting point to show the Government really means to take British Standards and food production seriously. However, there are still a lot of questions to be answered and commitments to be stuck to.

“At this stage this could still just be government paying lip service to the industry, so NSA will continue to call for real legislative commitment through the Trade Bill or Agriculture Bill.

“Government hasn’t committed to setting up this committee, or how it will look or be run. To be clear, this committee should be formed to assess each proposed FTA for its individual risks, the reports should be released publicly, and the Government should be required to issue a public response.”

NFU Scotland referred to it as a ‘significant step forward,’ having been collectively pressing for a body to safeguard food and farming standards for the past 18 months, it said.

“We look forward to working with the Secretary of State and her officials, alongside other stakeholders, in the days ahead on the Commission’s terms of reference,” commented NFUS president Andrew McCornick.

“Its independent composition would be integral to ensuring the correct representation and balance of devolved competencies in what is essentially a reserved matter, but which has major devolved interests, not least for the integrity of Scotland’s world-leading brands and PGI products.

“It is essential that our production standards are front and centre as the UK strikes its own trade deals and our call that products imported into the UK should be produced to the same standards or equivalent as those asked of our farmers and crofters has been backed through an online petition that has secured more than one million signatures,” he concluded.

The British Veterinary Association’s senior vice-president, Simon Doherty, said: “The veterinary profession has always been clear that any new trade agreements must not undermine the UK’s high animal health and welfare standards. Along with our colleagues in the farming industry, we have been pushing for this commitment to be enshrined in legislation.

“We welcome the new commission, but it is essential that veterinary expertise is at the heart of its membership and remit. Vets are critical to facilitating international trade and are committed to protecting and enhancing animal health and welfare and public health,” he urged.

“Although it only has an advisory role it is important that its advice is genuinely listened to and acted on by the Government. There is huge public concern about a lowering of animal welfare standards and consumers need to have confidence in what they are buying.”