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Are the UK’s trade deals reflecting consumer priorities?

One year on from the National Trade Conversation, Which? reconvened some of the participants to see if their priorities on trade have shifted.

Since leaving the EU, the UK is on course to negotiate and sign a wide range of new trade agreements that could have a significant impact on consumers. These binding commitments impact the choices consumers can make, the prices they pay, and the protections they can expect–and cannot be easily changed.

Which? launched the original National Trade Conversation (NTC) in 2020 to better understand what matters most to people across the UK in trade deals. From these conversations four clear issues emerged as the overall priorities for most who took part from all four nations of the UK.

With the UK’s approach to trade now more advanced, Which? brought some participants from the NTC back together to restart the conversation. How might their views on trade have shifted over the course of the year? Do they have new priorities?

How aware are you of trade deals?

To better understand how aware consumers are of international trade, Which? conducted a survey with a nationally representative group of 3,263 consumers earlier this year.

How much do you feel you know about trade? We’d be interested to see how you’d respond to some of our survey questions:

ℹ️ Want to see the full survey results? Click or tap here to expand/collapse the charts.

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“The research into trade opened my eyes greatly last year…”

While our survey found a low level of awareness of trade deals across the population – some 67% felt there was ‘too little’ information being provided by the government – the participants from the original National Trade Conversation still remained highly engaged with trade issues.

What’s more, the four priority areas which emerged from the original conversation were backed even more strongly this year. Maintaining food and consumer product standards – one of the strongest priorities from the original NTC – was described by participants as being of increased importance, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another striking finding was the proportion of people who ranked maintaining environmental protection much more of a priority than last year, especially when trading with partners further away from the UK.

Regardless of their level of engagement with trade, we found consumers want the government to do more on their behalf. The research shows consumers want more information about trade deals, and to ensure their voices are heard in the form of consumer chapters. The inclusion of a consumer chapter in the UK-New Zealand deal is a positive step in this direction – it’s vital the UK continues to secure consumer chapters in it’s future trade deals, and uses these to advance consumer interests.

You can see more of what our participants shared in the full report.

What are your views on trade?

We’d like to hear your views as well. What information do you find useful to know about trade deals?

What could the government be doing to help you understand how trade deals might affect you? Do you support the idea of a consumer chapter represented in trade deals?

Comments

I don’t know much about the various trade deals and the politics involved, but what I do know is that far too many of our consumer goods are made in countries like china and turkey where the regimes seriously persecute innocent people just for their beliefs which is right out of order and it means having to support those regimes by buying their products and not having much choice about it, and that’s what MUST be made to change, I only want to buy stuff that’s made in a true democracy. I want to see the current strangleholds of such regimes and their almost total monopolies totally broken for good. That should be a priority as it’s a moral obligation.

More than a year ago, Which advocated including surcharge-free mobile roaming within any future trade deals. Not only has Boris’s government neglected to do this with respect to non-European countries, but his government even neglected to do so with the UK-EU trade deal. Previously EEA residents enjoyed surcharge-free roaming in the UK, and UK residents enjoyed surcharge-free roaming in the EEA, but both of these came to an end on 31st December 2020, thanks to the incompetence of Boris’s government.

Instead we are now left with the very loose Article SERVIN.5.36 of the EU-UK trade agreement, which states with regard to “international mobile roaming” that:

1. The Parties shall endeavour to cooperate on promoting transparent and reasonable rates for international mobile roaming services in ways that can help promote the growth of trade among the Parties and enhance consumer welfare.

2. Parties may choose to take steps to enhance transparency and competition with respect to international mobile roaming rates and technological alternatives to roaming services, such as:

(a) ensuring that information regarding retail rates is easily accessible to end users; and

(b) minimising impediments to the use of technological alternatives to roaming, whereby end users visiting the territory of a Party from the territories of other Parties can access telecommunications services using the device of their choice.

3. Each Party shall encourage suppliers of public telecommunications services in its territory to make publicly available information on retail rates for international mobile roaming services for voice, data and text messages offered to their end users when visiting the territory of the other Party.

4. Nothing in this Article shall require a Party to regulate rates or conditions for international mobile roaming services.

Consequently many EEA mobile companies have started to impose surcharges for roaming in the UK, which harms UK tourism, starting with Austrian networks right from day one on 1st January 2021. UK mobile companies will very soon start to impose to daily fees for roaming in the EEA, which are unrelated to cost, because the wholesale roaming cost is not based on the amount of time spent connected to the visited network, but on the amount of data, minutes or SMS used on the visited network. Therefore I argue that the UK networks’ new daily surcharges are unreasonable and don’t even conform to paragraph 1 above.