Consumer group Which? has today (4 August) launched a new campaign to ensure consumer views are considered in the government’s negotiations for future trade deals.
The ‘National Conversation on Trade’ will consult a broad range of shoppers from locations across the UK and the political spectrum.
It will focus on issues central to the negotiations that could affect consumers most – including pricing, quality and privacy.
The campaign will also consult a wide range of trade associations – including the Fairtrade Foundation and the National Farmers’ Union – before reporting to government.
Which? describes the campaign as the “first of its kind” and says it will enable “in-depth citizens’ dialogues on what British people want from future trade policy”.
The UK is in the “unique position of designing its trade policy from scratch,” said the publication’s head of policy Caroline Normand. “To be successful, it needs to have the public’s trust and support.”
A survey of over two thousand adults carried out by Which? in 2019 found that most consumers expect government priorities, business interests and workforce issues to take precedence over consumer concerns, with one in five saying shoppers won’t be represented at all.
The UK formally withdrew from the EU earlier this year enabling it to negotiate its own trade deals with other nations.
The government has so far been keen to position the UK as an advocate for free trade and is seeking to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers in the ongoing negotiations.
However, critics have warned that a lowering of standards could see important UK industries – such as agriculture – struggle to compete with the cheaper and lower standard imports of their competitors.
Fears that negotiations with the US could result in a lowering of food hygiene standards have also been widely reported, including suggestions that imports of chlorinated chicken from the US could be allowed.
In a recent survey conducted by Which?, a majority (72%) of consumers said food from countries with lower standards should not be imported to the UK.
In response to these fears, Which? has been running a petition to protect the UK’s food standards. The appeal has already received over 200,000 signatures.