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.
Which? has carried out groundbreaking research with consumers around the UK, collecting the nation’s thoughts on future trade deals.
People drawn from all walks of life across the country gave up their time to get to grips with and debate a range of trade issues – guided by trade experts through a unique deliberative process.
Close to a hundred people from five different regions of the UK took part in the research over several weeks, debating key issues for trade, from food and farming to consumer rights and protections.
Here’s an introduction to our trade research:
The process involved over 12 hours of information sessions, facilitated discussions and reflective tasks, across two weeks, giving participants an opportunity to explore trade deals in great depth.
It was surprising that
the US and Australia have
lower safety standards
than ours, and I
think that’s quite
– Participant in The National
Trade Conversation from the
East Coast of Scotland
From these deliberative sessions emerged four overall priorities for most of the people who took part.
Firstly: maintaining health and safety standards for food and products.
Secondly: maintaining data security regulations that protect consumers’ digital rights.
Thirdly: protecting the environment.
And fourthly: help address regional inequalities by protecting and promoting jobs, skills and industries across the UK.
The government should build on the findings and the process of The National Trade Conversation, ensuring it engages more people in discussions about its priorities for trade policy and trade deals
Drawing on the findings of the research, we have written up recommendations for the UK’s future trade policy. They can be read here:
The wider picture: implications for trade
It is essential that trade deals deliver meaningful benefits for consumers in their everyday lives; it is also essential consumers are involved in the negotiation process.
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.
Food is a key area in trade talks currently taking place between the UK and the US, Japan, Australia and others.
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.
The UK has high food standards. Our food safety regime has been developed over the past half a century in response to number of food safety crises, such as BSE, to prevent them from happening again.
But some potential future trading partners (such as the US) do not have the same safeguards, which could mean lower quality food being imported into the UK.
Our research, however, 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 working to convince the government that food produced to lower standards than our own under is not allowed to be imported under future trade deals.
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 the substance of which the UK is seeking to carry over into its own deal with Japan – 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 agreed a trade deal.
See our analysis of what that means for consumers:
Which? Public Affairs Manager
4 January 2021
The UK-EU deal: what it means for consumers
The UK and EU struck a trade deal on 24 December last year, seven days before a final deadline for negotiations. The deal came into force on the 1 January, guaranteeing tariff-free trade on most goods.
Although a dramatic conclusion to years of negotiations, the close timing of the agreement wasn’t exactly a surprise after the number of tight and extended deadlines throughout this process.
Hailed as a satisfactory resolution to most of the sticking points raised in negotiations, from fishing to the level playing field, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “a good deal for all of Europe… we have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.”
The deal is good news for UK business and consumers in the broadest of terms.
While EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement set “solid foundations for a new start”, adding “we can finally put Brexit behind us.”
It’s an incredibly important deal for the UK economy and therefore UK consumers. In sheer trading volume, the EU is our biggest trading partner. In 2019 UK exports to Europe were £294bn (43 per cent of total exports), while more than half of our imports (£374bn) came from the EU. This economic activity can now continue largely uninterrupted.
The deal puts to bed much of the uncertainty the prospect of ‘no deal’ stirred up. It is good news for UK business and consumers in the broadest of terms.
We have analysed the 1200-page agreement, and pulled out specific areas that directly affect consumers.
Some areas will require further research and discussion to understand the full implications, while some areas are still subject to further discussion. But below we detail some changes of note that we have identified.
Travel and tourism
Travellers may now have to apply for for visas or permits if they wish to stay in EU countries beyond 90 days in any 180 day period.
On the day of travel, passports will need to have 6 months validity and be less than ten years old. And the UK will no longer take part in the ‘pet passport’ scheme – an Animal Health Certificate will be required.
UK citizens can continue using European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) until it runs out. Their EHIC will then be replaced by a ‘Global Health Insurance Card’ (GHIC). This will be more limited than before only covering EU countries. When visiting Norway UK consumers can receive emergency treatment on presenting a British passport. For all trips travel insurance is still advised.
Guaranteed free mobile roaming in Europe will end. A £45 cap on additional charges remains, after which individuals will need to opt in for further use.
In terms of driving in the EU, an International Driving Permit will not be required, but a green card from insurers will become necessary.
Guaranteed free mobile roaming in Europe will end. A £45 cap on additional charges remains, after which individuals will need to opt in for further use.
New rules come into force for aviation that say UK carriers will no longer be able to transport passengers or cargo between two points in the EU. As of yet, it is unknown as to whether this will lead to implications for the cost and availability for UK consumers.
Food and standards
There will be no tariffs on food imported from the EU. However there will be additional border checks, which may add costs on – some are also concerned this could lead to ‘teething problems’ with supply chains as the new inspection regime is rolled out at the border.
In terms of standards, the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) will be free to set its own rules for food and animal safety. There are, however, some ‘level playing field’ provisions in the agreement that should prevent divergence in areas such as antimicrobials and decontaminants.
In terms of consumer products more broadly, the deal supports cooperation on international standards and refers to cooperation between standards bodies. Both of these aspects are positive.
With personal imports, new rules will limit alcohol imports to 42 litres of beer, 18 litres of wine, 4 litres of spirits and 200 cigarettes.
Digital trade is a growing area of importance to consumers; with consumer-to-consumer business transactions on platforms such as Ebay and Amazon Marketplace growing every year.
The agreement sets out that both sides will cooperate on future digital trade issues including emerging technologies.
Both sides have committed to ensuring cross border data flows will continue, to facilitate digital trade. However this currently takes the form of a temporary agreement as the UK awaits a decision from the EU as to whether it will approve the UK for adequacy arrangements in the longer term.
And both sides have agreed to maintain measures to ensure there are protections for consumers engaging in online transactions in both jurisdictions, including access to redress for breaches of consumer rights.
Consumers will benefit
On a first reading, there are some areas that will require further clarity from both the EU and UK, and some areas that are subject to further discussions, but overall this provides certainty for consumers.
In terms of protecting and benefitting consumers, this agreement sets some good precedents which should be built on in the other trade deals the UK is currently negotiating.
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.
Digital trade: opportunities and risks in future deals
December 2020: Digital trade, from online shopping to digital services, is increasingly important to UK consumers. We set out how trade policy must respond and adapt to this trend.
The new way we trade: empowering global consumers
November 2020: The UK has a unique opportunity to empower its consumers. Our trade negotiators should take a new approach, writing consumer interests directly into trade deals.
Ensuring trade deals work for consumers
January 2020: 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.