Westminster has caved in to pressure to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) on a statutory footing in order that it can report on any new trade deals for scrutiny in Parliament.
The commission was originally launched for six months in July with members representing farming, animal welfare, retail and consumer interests, but its role was temporary and purely advisory.
However, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has announced that the TAC is to have a more active role through a new “legislative underpinning” which will be reviewed every three years.
A new amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which is due to come back to the Commons on Wednesday, will place a duty on the government to report to Parliament on “whether, or to what extent, commitments in new free trade agreements relating to agricultural goods are consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in relation to human, animal and plant life and health, animal welfare and environmental protection”.
These reports will examine the impacts on animal welfare and farming of each free trade deal the government seeks to establish after the end of the EU transition period on January 1 2021.
Lobbying organisations, including the farmers’ unions and vets, welcomed the announcement.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick, who is a member of the TAC, described the amendment as a huge step forward.
He said: “There has been overwhelming public backing, celebrity endorsement and growing cross-party support for measures to be written into legislation that recognise the outstanding standards met by the nation’s farmers and crofters and that ensure any imports coming into the UK would meet the standards that are required of UK producers.
“This is a landmark decision. We will study the detail of the proposals and strive to ensure that the best interests of farming, food and drink and the public continue to be front and centre of any future trade deals.”