Craig Williams – 2020 Speech on the Trade Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Craig Williams, the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, in the House of Commons on 20 May 2020.

It is a great privilege to take part in this debate. This Bill and this policy area will be one of the most important for my rural constituency of Montgomeryshire. Trade with the outside world and continuing trade with the EU is incredibly important to my agricultural community, as it is to other services and to manufacturing goods.

At the outset, I would like to welcome the 20 continuity trade agreements we have already rolled over. I would very much welcome an update from the Minister on the remaining, with an honest assessment of trade treaties, perhaps with Canada and other countries. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to David Frost, Sir Tim Barrow and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in Brussels for their continuing ​work. People talk about a lack of scrutiny, but it took me less than 20 seconds to check the update on that particular treaty, check the draft legal texts that are published on the website and read the most recent correspondence from David Frost to his counterparts. I cannot see a treaty being dealt with in so much light as that one currently is.

I want to focus my contribution on agriculture under the scope of the Bill and on trade policy going forward. We have not done trade policy directly as a Parliament, as a Government or as a country for some 40 years. We devolved or evolved or passed that power over to the European Union. Any Member or person in the United Kingdom who wants to hold up the European Union as a body one would want to replicate in terms of scrutiny obviously has not been participating in public discourse over the past five years.

I welcome much of what is in the Bill, but I seek reassurances on agriculture in particular. We produce high quality produce in this country and we are proud of our exports. We are proud of what our farmers are doing in the current covid-19 crisis to supply our domestic suppliers. I think public discourse on food supply is changing. Public discourse is changing on the robustness and the resilience of our supply networks. We have seen first-hand, through the work of the International Trade Committee, what has happened to some trade deals when national Governments have looked at their domestic supplies of pharmaceuticals and food stuffs during this crisis. We need to be very mindful of that as we put new trade deals in place.

Trade is vital for carcase balancing, the ability to sell cuts that the UK market does not want, and for dealing with demand shocks and seasonal issues. Trade is hugely important to my farmers, but I feel that because this subject has been dealt with in the European Union over the past 40 years there is a lot of misinformation. There is not a great deal of clarity on trade policy or how trade deals are put together. I implore the Minister and the Government to put in place some kind of communication package to explain what it means now that we have these important powers and what it means to be negotiating with the world as UK plc.

Last week there was a conflation of import standards with domestic standards and tariffs. It was hugely complicated and hugely frustrating to deal with that conflation of information. In a domestic Bill dealing with import standards, and sanitary and phytosanitary issues on top of that, we need to be clear with our constituents and our businesses what standards we are talking about and what impact the deals will have on our agricultural communities. I implore the Minister not just to engage with the farming unions—the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the NFU Cymru in my case; and I know the Minister has been on Zoom with them this week—but to build a relationship directly with farming communities, too. The unions of course conduct a great political campaign to promote their members’ views, but we need to engage directly. The unions of course conduct a great political campaign to promote their members’ views, but we need to engage directly.

We must maintain our import standards. I very much welcome the Minister’s public commitments, made at the Dispatch Box, to maintain the bans on chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. We must be clear that those import standards are staying and that we have the ​back of the agricultural community in this country. While we look at the resilience of our supply chains and the great opportunities that new trade deals with the outside world present, we must reassure and earn trust. Minister, I have to report back that, in the agricultural community, mainly because of misinformation and miscommunication, we are looking to you to earn that trust and make us some great deals.