Anne McIntosh – 2023 Speech on the Australia/New Zealand Trade Bill (Baroness McIntosh of Pickering)

The speech made by Anne McIntosh, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, in the House of Lords on 9 January 2023.

I welcome this opportunity to speak at Second Reading. I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lord Lansley and add my congratulations to my ever-youthful noble friend Lord Swire on his maiden speech. We look forward to many such contributions in future.

I have no known relatives in Australia or New Zealand, but I have close friends there who are, bizarrely, of Danish heritage. The House will remember that I am half-Danish; obviously, I took great interest in the fact that, 50 years ago last week, Denmark, Great Britain and Ireland joined the European Union, on 1 January 1973.

On a general note, I accept that no one can deny the importance of our relationships with Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries in relation to trade, security and other aspects. However, as noble Lords who have referred to the importance of those relationships will accept, those countries are a very long way away. Historically, geographically and perhaps more normally, our natural trading partners over the past 50 years—notably the European Union—have been closer.

Although I welcome the Bill before us, it seems to lend itself to being fairly asymmetrical, favouring foreign imports over domestic producers here. While we are told that the Bill is necessarily largely technical in nature, it is thin in substance; the Minister used the word “flexible”. I echo the sentiments of others who have spoken—notably our two august former trade commissioners to Australia, both of whom spoke very eloquently—about the impact of the lack of scrutiny on trade deals, such as is enjoyed in large measure in the US legislatures and the European Union, which we left only recently. I also support the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others on the key role to be played in this Bill and others by the Trade and Agriculture Commission; we must ensure that it has all available resources and expertise.

If one is in any doubt about the perhaps limited nature of the agreement before us, let me refer to the Government’s own impact assessment estimates. The impact assessment in relation to the New Zealand deal states that the UK’s

“agriculture, forestry and fishing and semi-processed foods sectors are expected to experience a reduction”

in gross value added

“of around 0.35% (£48 million) and 1.16% (£97 million) respectively.”

As regards Australia, that impact assessment states that the UK’s

“primary agriculture and semi-processed foods sectors are expected to experience a reduction”

in gross value added

“of around 0.7% (£94m) and 2.65% (£225m) respectively relative to baseline growth in the sectors.”

The Government estimate that as a result of the Australian deal we will see a reduction in gross output of around 3% for beef and 5% for sheepmeat due to liberalisation. This is equivalent to wiping £87 million off the output of UK sheep production and £67 million off the UK beef sector and does not take into regard the cumulative effect of agreeing similar liberalisation terms with New Zealand.

The trade figures for October show a decline in trade with non-EU countries, which obviously is a source of concern in the context of the Bill before us. I had the honour of representing for 18 years in the other place a deeply rural constituency in North Yorkshire with a proud tradition of producing spring lambs and fatstock beef. I fear that with the potentially asymmetry in this Bill, they will be damaged in the long term by the lack of a permanent safeguard clause. I will revert to that as one of my asks of my noble friend and his department in the context of the Bill this afternoon. I echo my noble friends Lord Frost and Lord Udny-Lister, who recognise the concerns to be faced by sheep farmers and particularly by hill farmers and fatstock producers across the UK and that those concerns must be addressed sooner rather than later.

In terms of Commonwealth trade, once Britain, Ireland and Denmark acceded to the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973, I understand that a trade deal was done with Australia, New Zealand and other members of the Commonwealth through the African, Caribbean and Pacific agreement. This has been updated periodically, most recently in European partnership agreements. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, initially mention was made of the importance of sugar in trade and obviously the vital importance of trade to certain Commonwealth countries. Initially, a stable price was set for sugar, which was replicated in other products.

I again pay tribute to my mentor, the late great Lord Plumb, who was president of the NFU, the first and last British President of the European Parliament, and co-president of the assembly for the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. He played a central and crucial role in these negotiations. Can my noble friend clarify the position under the Bill, which was raised in Oral Questions this afternoon, regarding products emanating from Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth and, now we have left the EU, third countries? Will those products meet the same standards of production, particularly in terms of animal welfare and environmental protection, as our home-produced foods?

I take great comfort from the commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto of 2019 that British high standards of animal welfare and environment would be maintained and that they would be replicated in imported food and food products. Can my noble friend the Minister take this opportunity to reconfirm and echo the comments made by our noble friend Lord Benyon, who, answering at Oral Questions, assured us that our free trade agreements, such as those before us in this Bill, will never conflict with stated UK policy in this regard?

The promise of open trade was, as I said, mentioned in the manifesto. It was repeated during the Conservative Party leadership contest in summer 2022 by my right honourable friend Rishi Sunak, now the Prime Minister. He made a commitment at that time that 50% of all publicly procured foods supplying local authorities, our schools, hospitals, prisons and defence establishments would be locally sourced. He went further, and I will quote his letter following his meeting with the NFU during that leadership contest in terms of international trade:

“I know that farmers are concerned by some of the trade deals that have been struck, including with Australia. I will make farmers a priority in all future trade deals. On my watch, we will not rush through trade deals at the expense of farmers. They will take as long as they take, and we will not water down our standards. We will also build on existing support mechanisms to help farmers export to the world’s emerging markets. We will maintain the high standards of animal welfare, environmental protection, and food safety.”

I support those desires and wishes of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will also support them when winding up this debate.

There is disappointment—as my noble friend Lord Lansley, other noble Lords and I discussed at length during the proceedings on the Trade Act, and more recently the Procurement Bill, during this Parliament—that the wishes of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister seem to have met insurmountable obstacles in meeting our domestic public procurement target for 50% locally sourced food. I hope that I can rely on my noble friend’s good offices to ensure that that target is met going forward.

I conclude by seeking assurances from the Minister today that, for the wine and spirit producers—who welcome this Bill, as do I—a separate chapter will be opened and the Government will vigorously apply for export opportunities for UK wines and spirits to both Australia and New Zealand. I understand that the New Zealand agreement is preferable, as it allows for a committee to improve trade in UK products without reopening the agreement. I would be very interested to learn why that same provision was not available for the Australia agreement.

I seek the further assurance for UK farmers and consumers that our high levels of food production will be maintained and that inferior products will not be allowed entry. We heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that hormone-produced beef and pesticide-induced crops may form part of the produce to be imported under the procurement provisions of the Bill before us. Neither would be acceptable to UK home production.

I also ask for the assurance that local authorities and military establishments will have the opportunity to source locally produced food to at least 50%, as previously sought by our Prime Minister.

Finally, I seek the assurance that an adequate and permanent safeguard clause will be introduced and that all the relevant statutory instruments, flowing directly or indirectly from this Bill, will be adopted under the affirmative procedure.