The UK is at a pivotal moment which will decide how we all live – and how well.
From the food we eat to the safety of products in our homes, the holidays we take and our consumer rights, new trade deals will define every aspect of ours and future generations’ lives.
It’s essential the government gets it right. And we’re going to make sure it does.
Trade deals negotiated between the UK and other global nations will decide what products and services you can buy and their quality and cost.
They will determine whether you’re protected if something goes wrong, how you travel and take holidays, and how your data is protected and shared.
We’re demanding that the government champions British consumers when negotiating, and builds the following into all trade deals:
Hover over/tap each one to read more
Safety and quality standards must be maintained and enhanced.
People should have greater access to high quality goods and services.
Lower prices should be pursued as long as standards, choice and your rights aren’t affected.
Consumers need to be supported by consumer rights and effective redress if anything goes wrong.
We’ll judge future trade deals, as they come up, on these criteria – and keep you updated if the government isn’t meeting them.
We’ll post regular updates to this page as the negotiations develop, to keep you in the loop.
Throughout our history the UK has traded around the world – with consumers benefiting from greater choice and lower prices.
The UK is in the unique
position of designing
its trade policy
from scratch. To be
successful, it needs to
have the public’s
trust and support.
Head of Policy at Which?
Global trade has never been more important to the UK than it is now. And there are many new opportunities to bring even greater choice and lower prices.
A trade deal recently agreed between the EU and Japan – which the UK was part of and wishes to carry over – will provide real benefits for consumers.
This deal will lower and, in some cases, remove tariffs on Japanese goods such as cars, electronics and technology – making these goods cheaper to purchase in the UK.
This trade deal shows lower prices for consumers can be achieved without compromising on quality, standards or consumer rights.
Find out what each nation wants from a future trade deal, and read our expert analyst’s take on how the deals will play out.
Both the UK and US have now set out their priorities for trade deal negotiations.
See our assessment on how consumers are affected:
External Affairs Manager
16 March 2020
The US deal: will our standards be protected?
Last week the UK published its objectives for upcoming trade negotiations with the US (the US released its objectives at the beginning of February).
These negotiating objectives are the first insight we’ve had into what the UK is seeking from a trade deal with the US – and the approach it will take.
The first thing to say is: it’s very encouraging to see some strong commitments from the UK to maintaining food standards and other consumer protections, despite US desires to see free access for US goods to our food markets.
Broadly speaking, the public know about the US-UK trade deal through two well-publicised issues: chlorinated chicken and the NHS.
The public are strongly against chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones or any lowering of the UK’s food standards.
Our research shows the public are strongly against chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones or any lowering of the UK’s food standards consequent to a deal with the US.
So the commitments set out to protect food standards and the NHS in these negotiating objectives should allay public worries somewhat.
It shows the government are listening to public concerns over standards and consumer protections. And they should be applauded for starting out negotiations with these lines in the sand.
On top of this, the negotiating objectives also commit to upholding product safety, tackling online harms (such as scams) and to working with the US on joint enforcement for competition and consumer rights.
Data – a hugely important area, but something public discourse has hardly touched on – could be an interesting sticking point, however.
And unlike food and consumer rights, with data the rules of the game haven’t been laid down yet.
The UK’s negotiating objectives promise to uphold data protection, but the US has said it wishes to see “state of the art” rules to ensure free data flows across borders; two positions that clearly may not be compatible.
Add into this the fact that the UK is also seeking a data deal with the EU, whose GDPR rules might not be compatible with a restriction-free deal with the US, and there are clearly several competing priorities at play.
How the UK negotiates conflicting priorities in all economic areas, not only data, will determine the quality of the deals we get.
The US has said it wishes to see “state of the art” rules to ensure free data flows across borders.
It’s now vital the UK Government stands strong on its commitments to consumers as the negotiations commence and trade offs come in to play.
But starting out with some firm commitments to existing standards and protections, as the UK government has done, is commendable. It’s a good start.
The UK and EU have also set out their negotiating objectives for a future deal.
See our analysis of what that means for consumers:
External Affairs Manager
16 March 2020
The EU deal: Brexit divisions remain
The UK and EU have entered the first stages of post-Brexit trade talks, setting out their priorities in negotiating objectives.
The key take away from these is that divisions we saw play out during the Brexit process have not gone away.
Both sides want a trade deal without tariffs and quotas but beyond this they disagree, broadly along the same lines we’ve already seen:
The UK wants a free trade deal and “legal autonomy” from the EU. It does not want close legal alignment with the bloc.
The divisions we saw play out between the sides during the Brexit process have not gone away.
The EU wants the opposite: commitments from the UK that it will conform to EU legislation in several areas.
The EU say they won’t let the UK remain a member of the single market if we have different laws and regulations, as this might allow us to compete unfairly.
This is called the “level playing field” rule in the EU mandate. And it seems unlikely they’ll budge on it.
How do consumers fit in? The UK government has made commitments in its negotiating objectives to maintain food safety alongside animal welfare; reduce disruption to aviation and e-commerce; and seek to maintain EHIC. This is encouraging.
The challenge for consumers is – unlike with labour and the environment – there is no ‘consumer chapter’ in the negotiating objectives which commits both sides to uphold existing standards and rights.
We have been pushing for these consumer chapters to be included in all future trade deals the UK strikes – and we will continue to do so.
Time on our side?
The UK wants a free trade deal and “legal autonomy” from the EU. It does not want close legal alignment with the bloc. The EU wants the opposite.
These negotiations are going to have to progress very rapidly if the government is not to cross its own red line for the transition period (31 December 2020), which raises questions as to how much can realistically be agreed in this timeframe.
(In practice we have even less time: a deal would have to be struck by September in order to get it through Parliament, and the equivalent EU channels, in time for the deadline.)
The government has said that if a free trade deal fails to be struck, the UK will turn its attention to an Australia-style relationship IE a trading relationship without a deal. But both sides will be keen to avoid this disruption.
And both sides know the other well. The EU knows that the UK government is adamant not to extend the negotiating deadline.
Likewise, the UK knows the EU is keen to be able to move beyond negotiations with a former member and turn its focus to other issues. Time is of the essence, but in short supply.
Where agreement is not reached, It will be interesting to see how the UK decides to progress.
But some aspects of international trade are seen more as a risk than an opportunity.
Our research shows the UK public is concerned about the quality and provenance of food under future trade deals.
would be uncomfortable
eating beef treated
with growth hormones
would be uncomfortable
eating chlorinated chicken
Source: Populus, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 2187 adults online between 17th and 19th July 2019. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of the UK adult population.
Eight in ten people (79%) would be uncomfortable eating beef produced with growth hormones – as is the practice on some farms in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
And seven in ten (72%) would be uncomfortable eating chlorine-treated chicken.
Having UK-produced food on supermarket shelves is also important to consumers.
Over three quarters said it was important that dairy products (78%) and meat products (72%) come from the UK.
Nearly three quarters (72%) think food from countries with lower standards shouldn’t be available at all.
And we agree. The government must not allow food to be imported that is produced to lower standards than our own under future trade deals.
Source: Office for National Statistics, 2016
It’s not just about food. These trade deals will affect almost every aspect of our lives.
From mobile roaming to healthcare, flight delay compensation to online shopping, we’re going to fight your corner.
As new trade deals progress through negotiations, we’ll be lobbying ministers, giving the consumer view, and demanding that you’re put first in these deals – maximising the opportunities and minimising the risks.
We want the government to embed your interests into a Consumer Chapter within each deal, ensuring that consumer rights and protections are maintained or enhanced.
These trade deals are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to define how the UK trades with the world.
And we won’t rest until consumers’ best interests are locked into every deal.
Read our future trade deals report in full.
The UK is in the unique position of designing its trade policy from scratch. This report sets out how these deals can and must work for consumers.