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Strengthening UK Agri-Food Trade: A Call for Coherence and Collaboration

The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) has underscored the importance of a more coherent agri-food trade policy and closer collaboration with industry during negotiations in a recent session with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Robert Sheasby, Chief Executive of AIC, presented the perspective of the UK agri-supply industry on the intricacies of trade deals and the management of trading relations by the government.

Addressing the committee on November 21, Sheasby expressed concerns about the existing approach to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), stating, “At the moment, it feels like we enter individual FTAs where we set a strategy for those individual agreements, and then it goes very quiet, and that is a real concern.”

He emphasized the need for a comprehensive and clear trade strategy for the UK that takes into account agriculture and agri-food in the broadest sense. The lack of a holistic strategy raises concerns about potential oversights and missed opportunities during negotiations.

Call for a Unified Trade Strategy:

Sheasby urged for an overarching trade strategy that aligns with the diverse aspects of the agriculture and agri-food sectors. The AIC believes that a unified approach would enhance the effectiveness of trade agreements and ensure a more inclusive consideration of the industry’s interests.

Enhanced Collaboration between Government Departments:

The AIC’s chief executive pointed out that other countries are more adept at engaging commercial businesses during negotiations. To bridge this gap, Sheasby called for a closer partnership between relevant government departments, specifically the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Such collaboration, he argued, is crucial for ensuring that the intricacies of the agri-supply industry are well-represented and considered in trade negotiations.

Committee Inquiry and Recommendations:

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee is currently conducting an inquiry to scrutinize the UK’s agri-food trade strategy. Chaired by the Rt Hon Sir Robert Goodwill MP, the committee aims to provide recommendations to the government on how the strategy can be improved.

As the UK navigates the complexities of post-Brexit trade, the AIC’s call for a more coherent and inclusive agri-food trade policy underscores the need for a strategic and collaborative approach. Strengthening ties between government departments and industry stakeholders can pave the way for more effective trade negotiations and a trade strategy that better serves the interests of the UK’s agri-supply sector.