The UK has been negotiating a wide range of new trade deals as part of its trade policy since leaving the EU. Many of these deals have been continuity agreements, but starting with the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Japan, the UK is on course to negotiate and sign a wide range of new trade agreements.
While a large focus of trade talks will be the export and investment opportunities for UK businesses, the trade deals that the UK agrees have much wider impacts on people’s everyday lives - the choices they make, the prices they pay, the standards they can expect and the rights they can rely on.
In 2020 Which? hosted the National Trade Conversation (NTC) – a series of public dialogues around the UK, with people from a wide range of backgrounds, to understand what they thought should be the government’s priorities for consumers when negotiating new trade deals. This autumn we reconvened participants from these dialogues, one year on from their last deliberation, to reconsider the issues and assess the government’s approach to negotiations. We also conducted a nationwide survey, representative of the entire population, as well as specific nations.
Four priorities consistently emerged from our initial dialogues and were strongly reinforced in our most recent research:
• Maintain health and safety standards for food and products.
• Protect the environment.
• Maintain data protection regulations that protect consumer rights.
• Help address regional inequalities by protecting and promoting jobs, skills and industries across the UK.
This paper assesses the extent to which the UK government’s approach to trade policy and trade deals is in line with public expectations, and identifies the priorities for the next stage of negotiations in order to ensure consumer interests are addressed.