WELL DONE, at last, to the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) for telling the government that trade deals offering tariff-free access should only be granted for food products that fully meet UK standards.

This would apply to areas such as animal welfare, hygiene and environmental standards. However before hats are thrown in the air to celebrate this as a victory, it is important to remember the Commission is just an advisory body.

Like all quangos, it advises while ministers decide. The TAC is not strictly a quango and thanks to pressure via the House of Lords it has a right to have its views considered by parliament before trade decisions are made. However given the massive majority the government has in parliament, and the political and economic pressure it faces to deliver trade deals, there can only be any cause for celebration when it says it will accept this advice.

The politics around trade have not been helped by reports that the Biden administration in the United States has gone very cool on an early trade deal with the UK, seeing more merit in getting closer to the vast consumer market of the EU. The ATC report also says UK quality schemes, such as Red Tractor, should be used to drive exports. This makes sense, but as good an idea as it is, watch out for politicians climbing on that band-wagon, while playing down the other more important recommendation on imports.

While the TAC has its sights set on distant markets and future trade deals, problems continue with our nearest and biggest export market in the EU. Getting that right should be a priority for the government, rather than chasing the pipe-dreams of knock-out trade deals in north or south America. A well-functioning EU market would be better for the economy and agriculture in particular. It should be a lot easier to achieve, if not as politically rewarding for a government determined to prove, vaccines apart, that its Brexit policy is a success. It needs to show that prioritising sovereignty over market access worked, when it is becoming more clear by the day that this is not the case.

One national newspaper, known for its pro-Brexit, anti-EU views, thundered this week that the EU had launched a 'spiteful war' against glorious British snowdrop imports. This goes to the root of the problem. The EU has not changed its rules towards third countries and imports. It is treating the UK the same as others, but with some concessions via the trade deal.

This is what Brexit supporters wanted – the UK to be an independent nation, free of all EU rules. That is what has now happened, in that the UK has entirely left the club and cannot expect to enjoy special treatment. It took the choice to minimise controls on imports, while the EU did not make that decision. Boris Johnson rejected all suggestions that the UK should remain in the single market by joining the European Economic Area or sticking with EU rules.

There is friction from the EU, but what it is doing is enforcing rules in place for a long time. That cannot be deemed spiteful. This is the Brexit purity its supporters wanted and UK businesses are paying the price.

Despite all that is happening on the trade front, agriculture is being helped by a general improvement in global food prices. Forget about politics and this is worth celebrating. Reports have shown that in general food prices on on a solid upward curve, with prices in the early months of 2021 well ahead of the same time last year.

The exception is meat and red meat in particular, which seems to have been pulled into a negative place in climate change and health debates. The entire industry should however gain from a rising tide lifting all boats, particularly on export markets. Covid restrictions and the closure of restaurants and much of Europe's holiday business is, according to the European farm lobby body COPA, hitting agriculture – and again the red meat industry is in the firing line.

However, on a positive note, the New Zealand Fonterra global dairy trade (GDT) auction surged by a massive 15% this week – its biggest climb for seven years. One swallow never makes a summer, but hopefully this confirms Asian market recovery is well established and will continue to bring benefits. Real markets top trade politics any day of the week.