Briefing: Free Trade and the Agriculture Bill 2019-21

In recent decades, global food trade has liberalised substantially. According to the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs, Britain imports 47 per cent of its food, 19 per cent coming from outside the European Union. This means that, no matter the time of year, most products can be sourced from somewhere in the world.

Food liberalisation has benefited both rich and poor across the globe. Between 2005 and 2017, for example, the number of undernourished people in the world declined by 136 million people, twice the current UK population. It has also benefited British shoppers, as the variety of goods available at a typical supermarket has increased and prices have fallen.

All of this has been possible due to free trade, and it has been massively beneficial for British taxpayers. In terms of food and drink products alone, the amount of product lines at a typical large supermarket has increased tenfold since the late 1950s, from around 2,500 to 25,000, according to the TaxPayers’ Alliance. Food in Britain is amongst some of the cheapest in the world, and the amount that people spend on food has more than halved over the past 60 years.

The global food trade has evolved over time. Few would have believed that the south of England would be one of the world’s wine capitals forty years ago. Introducing rigid, binding rules that cannot be reshaped as trade goals change is unwise. Britain needs to keep its trade options as open as possible, including by resisting efforts at creating long term trade barriers in the Agriculture Bill, and work to further liberalise global food trade.

Read the briefing note in full.

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