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9 August, 2022

What is the state of post-Brexit UK trade agreements?

Farmers and consumers are worried supermarkets might soon be flooded with cheap, inferior quality produce from the UK's post-Brexit trade agreements.

By Marina Leiva

Since the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, a point of contention between the UK government, farmers and the general public has been the potential harm that new trade agreements might cause to food standards, as well as to the livelihoods of UK farmers, who are concerned that they will struggle to compete with cheaper produce from overseas flooding supermarkets.

So far, the UK has signed three new trade agreements since its departure from the EU, including a digital trade agreement with Singapore that was signed in February 2022 and entered into force on 14 June, but will not have any repercussions for food trade.

The two agreements that are likely to have an impact on the UK’s food markets for consumers and farmers are an agreement with Australia, signed in December 2021, and an agreement with New Zealand, which was signed in 2022, but neither of them are yet in force.

In the case of the trade agreement with New Zealand, for example, there are worries among the UK public about the country’s use of antibiotics in cattle. 

Similarly, the use of certain pesticides banned in the UK but legal in Australian farming is a concern for consumers and farmers in the UK.  

With which countries is the UK in trade deal negotiations?

Aside from the already approved deals with Australia and New Zealand, according to the UK Government, negotiations for trade agreements have been started with the following countries: 

  • Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The UK applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in February 2021. Negotiations started in September 2021 and the UK government says it hopes they will be concluded by the end of 2022.
  • The US. Negotiations started in May 2020, but an agreement is not expected soon, according to the UK government. Again, concerns about the quality of food that might come from the US is prevalent among the UK media and public. 
  • India. There is no current trade agreement between the UK and India. Negotiations started on 17 January 2022. A trade agreement with India is also a concern for UK consumers, mainly due to the use of pesticides in India.
  • Canada. There is an existing trade agreement with Canada that largely replicates the one Canada has with the EU. Negotiations for a new UK-Canada trade agreement were launched in March 2022.
  • Mexico. Negotiations were launched in May 2022 to update the existing UK-Mexico trade agreement. This largely replicates the agreement Mexico has with the EU.
  • Gulf Cooperation Council. The GCC represents six states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). The UK currently does not have a trade agreement with any of these countries. Negotiations started in June 2022.
  • Israel. Negotiations were launched on 20 July 2022 to update the existing UK-Israel agreement, which largely replicates the agreement Israel has with the EU.

With a new UK prime minister, either Rishi Sunak (a former chancellor of the exchequer) or Liz Truss (the foreign secretary who negotiated many of these deals), to be announced on 5 September, it remains to be seen if the agreements already signed and the ones still being negotiated will include more protections for consumers and farmers alike.

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