Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Organic Production (Organic Indications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Debate

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Department: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 Organic Production (Organic Indications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Victoria Prentis Excerpts
Monday 25th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

General Committees
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None Portrait The Chair
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Before we begin, I remind Members to observe social distancing and to sit only in the places that are clearly marked. I also remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Committee, unless speaking. Hansard colleagues would be most grateful if Members could send their speaking notes to hansardnotes@parliament.uk. In a moment I will call the Minister to move the first motion and speak to both instruments. At the end of the debate I will put the question on the first motion and then ask the Minister to move the remaining motion formally.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 1661).

None Portrait The Chair
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With this it will be convenient to consider the Organic Production (Organic Indications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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It is good to serve with you in the Chair again, Mr Robertson. I will deal first with the food and drink regulations.

This instrument was made using the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 principally to make operability amendments to retained EU law. It is technical and does not introduce new policy. It was made using the made affirmative procedure under the Act to ensure that provisions were in place at the end of the transition period. The provisions could be confirmed only within the timeframe that required an urgent procedure because of the ongoing negotiations with the EU and third countries. The amendments made by this instrument primarily concern geographical indications. This includes transitioning obligations in EU wines and spirits agreements. It also extends to trade between the United Kingdom and the EU of wine and organic products.

GIs, as I am sure the Committee is aware, are a form of intellectual property protection for the names of food, drink and agricultural products that have qualities attributable to the place that they are produced in, or the traditional method by which they are made. They are highly valued in the communities that produce them, and as examples of the range of quality British products that are enjoyed around the world. They are also produced around the world and are an important part of the international trading landscape. The UK has signed a number of trade agreements that ensure continued protection for GIs, such as those that were previously protected under EU trade agreements. In some cases, trade deals were agreed but could not be ratified until the end of the transition period, so this SI concerns the bridging arrangements that were introduced to continue the effects of the previous agreements until ratification. It allows us to continue to protect GIs where bridging arrangements are in place. This ensures that the GIs that are already protected in the UK do not lose their protection because of a long ratification process elsewhere.

The instrument also adds an additional category of GI to ensure that a Japanese GI, Kumamoto Rush, remains protected in the UK. It was previously protected in an EU-Japan trade agreement, but it did not fit with any of the new GI product categories that we inherited from the EU. The addition of this category provides a clear basis on which to continue to protect the GI under our own agreement with Japan.

Turning to spirit drinks, the instrument provides for the continued protection of US product names in the UK to reflect the transitioned US spirit agreement. It does the same for Mexican product names once the agreement has come into force. It also enables the retained spirit drinks regulations for GIs to function correctly with regard to procedure and enforcement. As with the spirits amendments, with respect to the transitioned US wine agreement, this instrument makes retained regulations operable.

There are also a number of non-GI provisions. On wine, the regulations provide for a six-month easement on the new requirement for EU wines imported into the UK to be accompanied by a VI-1 certificate, which provides information on the type and analytical composition of a wine. The easement should minimise the potential for disruption to the UK market by allowing EU imports to arrive on the same commercial documents that were used while the UK was a member state. New, simplified certification arrangements are set out in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement, which should cover movements of EU and UK-origin wines.

On organics, we have extended our recognition of the EU and EEA states as equivalent, and we have updated their list of control bodies. We have also ensured that organic products from the EU, EEA and Switzerland are allowed to continue to flow smoothly by providing a six-month easement on the requirement for certificates of inspection for such products.

I turn now to the second SI before us, which amends the legislation that applies to organic product labelling in order to ensure that it was operable at the end of the transition period and continues to be so. More specifically, the SI removes the mandatory requirement for the EU organic logo to be featured on organic products sold in Great Britain, and it provides the legal framework for our organic logo, which I have shared before with previous Committees and with the hon. Member for Cambridge, when we have finished developing it. It is still in discussion, as the Committee knows.

The SI also amends the requirement to include a statement of agricultural origin on packaging, so that it refers to the UK rather than to the EU. Where a product has been only partly farmed in the UK, organic operators should use labelling to show whether it is UK or non-UK agriculture. Failure to approve the SI would put our organic operators at risk of regulatory disruption, which could really affect their ability to trade.

In conclusion, the SIs are essential for smooth transition. Without them, we could not meet some of our international obligations. Retained legislation would not be operable, and vital transitional provisions would not be in place. I urge the Committee to approve the SIs.

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Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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I will do my best. This is not the time or the place for a discussion of the rights and wrongs of Brexit, or indeed the rights and wrongs of the TCA. I am extremely pleased that we were able to agree a tariff-free arrangement for trading with our friends and neighbours in the EU.

The UK GIs are already on the EU register and, as such, they remain protected. We have agreed a review clause in the TCA, so that we can agree the rules with the Commission in future on how we protect GIs. I think that is a perfectly satisfactory arrangement. I have discussed with the hon. Gentleman before how ambitious the Government are in the GI space, and I feel that this system will work well for both sides.

I turn to some specifics. VI-1s are already established for imports from other non-EU sources of wine, of which there are many, as we all know. We have a competitive market for wine in the UK, and we decided that the existing rules should be retained for imports from the EU, rather than establishing a new and specific EU policy. The policy was decided in the interests of treating the wine industry as a whole. Nevertheless, this instrument provides an easement to give traders time to get used to the new arrangements until 1 July. That will allow EU wine to continue to be imported using commercial documentation, as it was when the UK was subject to the previous EU rules.

The hon. Gentleman pressed me about the future. It is true that leaving the EU gives us the ability to look critically at the laws we have inherited from the EU, to ensure that they remain fit for purpose. In a world where we drink wine from all around the world—including from on our own shores—we will consider in due course whether there is a case for revisiting the requirements of the VI-1 certification.

The hon. Gentleman asked about organics. We are committed to the highest organic standards and will carefully consider any enhancements to them. This is the beginning of a new chapter for the UK. We will use the Agriculture Act 2020 to set an ambitious new course for the organic sector. We are working to ensure that organic goods can continue to move freely between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In terms of movement into Northern Ireland, through the Joint Committee agreement and the UK-EU TCA, we have secured easements to allow time for adjustments to take place. The easement on the requirement of certificates of inspection will ensure the smooth flow of the majority of organic products at the border for three months. During that time, we are engaging heavily with the organics sector, the Northern Ireland Executive, port authorities and others, to help them to prepare for the end of the easement in April. In the light of that, I ask that the Committee approve these statutory instruments.

Question put and agreed to.

ORGANIC PRODUCTION (ORGANIC INDICATIONS) (AMENDMENT) (EU EXIT) REGULATIONS 2020

Resolved,

That the Committee has considered the Organic Production (Organic Indications) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I. 2020, No. 1669.)—(Victoria Prentis.)