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.
Through each round of negotiations thrashed out, each issue laid on the table, and each compromise struck, we’re scrutinising the deals to make sure they put consumers first.
Food is a key area in UK-US trade talks currently taking place – and all available information suggests our standards are being put on the negotiating table in pursuit of a free trade agreement.
want existing food
standards to be maintained
would be uncomfortable
eating beef reared
with growth hormones
Source: Populus, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 2,112 adults online between 18th and 20th September 2020. Data weighted to be representative of UK consumers by age, gender and region.
This could mean US products currently banned in the UK, including chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef and pork, being imported and sold here.
Our research shows the vast majority of the UK public are against lower quality food being imported into the UK, and these views are strengthening.
Over eight in ten (81%) would be uncomfortable eating beef produced with growth hormones (a 3 point increase on a year before).
And seven in ten (77%) would be uncomfortable eating chlorine-treated chicken (a 5 point increase).
Overall, nine in ten people (94%) think maintaining existing food standards is important; while 74% think it’s very important.
And we agree. We’re demanding the government must not allow food to be imported that is produced to lower standards than our own under future trade deals.
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.
– Sue Davies,
Which? Head of Consumer
Protection and Food Policy
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:
Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy
15 June 2020
UK’s food safety regime under threat in US talks
This week the UK and US enter the second round of negotiations for a free trade agreement – and the UK’s food standards are on the table.
The UK is being put under pressure by US negotiators to dilute existing food safety rules, opening the doors to cheaper US imports (including but not limited to chlorine-washed chicken and hormone treated beef, which are currently banned from sale in the UK).
And, despite previous commitments to uphold standards, there have been reports in the last few days that the Department for International Trade is looking at allowing foods using production methods we don’t currently permit to be imported.
The UK is being put under pressure by US negotiators to dilute existing food safety rules, opening the doors to cheaper US imports.
Why the U-turn? Both sides are eager to secure a deal before before next presidential election in November – and time is running out. Concessions that allow more US food products into the UK could unlock a deal before this deadline.
Rather than standing by our food standards, the government is instead now looking at raising tariffs on US food imports to protect UK farmers from being undercut.
But this U-turn, although potentially protecting UK farmers, would undermine consumer protection and set a worrying precedent for sacrificing standards in other trade deals.
Consumers against lower quality food
Our research shows British consumers are united in their opposition to lowering food standards as part of any future trade deal.
79% would be uncomfortable eating beef produced using growth hormones, while 72% felt the same about chlorine-treated chicken.
While nearly three quarters (72%) think food from countries with lower standards should not be available.
One in six Americans are estimated to suffer from food poisoning every year.
And the public have good reason to be concerned. Lowering our food standards could lead to a big increase in foodborne illness.
In the USA where food production standards are less stringent, food poisoning runs rampant. One in six Americans are estimated to suffer from food poisoning every year.
Whereas in the UK around 2.4 million people are estimated to suffer from foodborne illness every year. The estimates are not directly comparable – but that would be the equivalent of 1 in 28.
We do not want to import these unacceptably high rates of foodborne illness into our health system.
Is food labelling the answer?
Responding to criticism of the government’s approach, Penny Mourdant, the Cabinet Office Minister said last week “we should be trusting the consumer” on whether they buy US products.
This ignores the way people consume food: it’s often impossible to know the provenance of the food if you’re eating in a restaurant or getting a takeaway.
Furthermore, the US side is likely to oppose any labelling of their country’s products.
The US side is likely to oppose any labelling of their country’s products.
Their negotiating objectives demand the removal of “unjustified commercial requirements (including unjustified labelling) that affects new technologies.”
Labelling of US goods could be yet another protection dropped to the wayside in the pursuit of a rapid deal.
Why we’ve launched a campaign
It’s now or never for the UK’s food safety regime, which is why this week we’ve launched a campaign demanding the government uphold the safeguards.
And it’s not just a matter of doing the right thing.
In their 2019 election manifesto, the Government themselves pledged not to reduce standards when negotiating trade deals.
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
We’re demanding the government stick to their word and pursue trade deals which benefit consumers across the country.
The UK and EU have also set out their negotiating objectives for a future deal.
See our analysis of what that means for consumers:
Which? Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy
5 August 2020
The EU deal: we’re down to the wire
Time is running out for the UK and EU to agree a post-Brexit trade deal.
The UK has confirmed it will not seek to extend the transition period, which runs out on the 31st December this year.
And although both sides have intensified negotiations – meeting more regularly with continued dialogue between rounds – there is little sign currently of a breakthrough in talks.
Competition and the potential for regulatory divergence are reportedly sticking points on which neither side wants to give ground.
We’re encouraging the government to take a pragmatic approach and secure a deal, protecting UK consumers from the uncertainty and disruption of a no-deal outcome.
The EU will not allow a future trading relationship with the level of access that the UK had as a member of the single market, now that it has left it – and has raised concerns that if we diverge and change our laws and regulations on goods, for example, this might allow unfair competition.
This is called the “level playing field” rule in the EU mandate – and it seems unlikely they’ll budge on it.
On data, the EU wants the UK to remain committed to the current laws on data protection – the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which give consumers in EU countries with some of the best data protection in the world.
The UK, however, wishes to change its approach to data protection, to cut deals with other trading partners such as the US, who would like to see a liberalisation of the rules.
The risks of no-deal are real
Failure to secure a deal with the EU by the 31 December deadline would result in a disruptive no-deal situation.
Although the UK government is currently putting contingency plans in place for this possibility, there could still be considerable disruption to UK consumers in the short and long term.
This could include disruption to supply chains for some essential items, such as foods and medicines – although the government is working with businesses to try and mitigate this.
Without an agreement on tariff-free trade, we could see some prices going up too, potentially including food prices.
Without an agreement on tariff-free trade, we could see some prices going up too, potentially including food prices.
It would also mean an end to many cross-border consumer rights – whether that’s shopping rights, access to health care through the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or protections when EU-based package holiday companies go bust.
That’s why, given the benefit to consumers in both the UK and the EU, we’re encouraging the government to take a pragmatic approach and secure a deal, protecting UK consumers from the uncertainty and disruption of a no-deal outcome.
Beyond averting a no-deal situation, we’re actively encouraging the UK and EU sides to work together to build future provisions to maintain existing regulations protecting consumers’ health, safety and economic interests.
Which? has always said the success of future trade deals will depend on how well they work for consumers – we hope the government takes this advice to heart as we enter the final few months of negotiations with the EU.
The UK and Japan have entered talks for a rapid trade deal. See what each side wants
The UK and Australia have entered talks for a trade deal. See the latest on what each side wants:
Source: Office for National Statistics, 2016
These trade deals will affect almost every aspect of our lives.
From healthcare to the quality of our food, data protection to online shopping, we’re championing consumers in these negotiations.
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.
Which? is carrying out research with consumers around the UK, seeking to gauge the nation’s thoughts on trade deals.
The National Trade Conversation – the first event of its kind in the UK – will find out what British people, from all walks of life, want from future trade policy and to inform policymakers as the UK continues international trade negotiations.
90 participants over five locations across the UK, representing a wide range of backgrounds, will take part in a series of virtual workshops. The findings will feed into a set of trade considerations informing Which?’s wider trade deal work with government and other key groups.
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.