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National Trade Conversation: Scotland

The visual minutes of the National Trade Conversation in Scotland

We asked consumers around the UK for their views on future trade deals. Here are the vies from the East Coast of Scotland.

The UK is developing trade policy as an individual country for the first time in over 40 years and the result of this will impact on consumers across the UK. It’s therefore essential that the consumer voice is heard when the UK negotiates trade deals. 

To make sure this happens, Which? carried out The National Trade Conversation, a large scale piece of research to understand what consumers wanted future trade deals to deliver. 

Across the research almost 100 consumers grouped by their location attended 10 hours of workshops over a two week period.

From this we developed a rich picture of what matters most to them about future UK trade deals, and today we share some of the highlights of the group from the East Coast of Scotland.

Read our full series on the National Trade Conversation

Use the dropdown toggles to expand or collapse each section.

Health and safety standards: food and other consumer goods

Scottish participants wanted the government to maintain health and safety standards for food and other consumer goods as a key priority. 

In a supplementary survey of 1018 Scottish consumers, half (53%) ranked “maintaining existing health & safety standards for food and other products” as their top priority for UK trading objectives1

They were concerned about the health implications of the production and consumption of lower standard food, from both a consumer and animal welfare perspective. Participants were also keen to maintain standards for other consumer goods. 

There was a sense that the UK had worked hard to achieve its high standards and shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of a trade deal. 

“We are lucky to have high standards across the board from food to data protection in the UK – we don’t want to compromise these.”

Another motivating factor to maintain existing food standards was the relative importance of farming and food and drink manufacture to the Scottish economy. Many were concerned about the negative impacts cheap imports could have on the livelihoods of those producing Scottish food and drink. 

This led to some concluding that trade deals – and how an agreement could impact consumers and the country – should be more transparent, in order to minimise the possibility of a ‘bad’ deal. 

“When you think how much of Scotland is given over to farming, how much of Fife, Angus, the Highlands, the Borders, Aberdeenshire, if we’re not careful about the effect on UK farmers it could have devastating consequences on our rural economy.”

Price, quality and choice were three issues that were passionately debated when Scottish consumers were discussing what they wanted future trade deals to deliver to consumers. 

Some participants were positive towards the benefits that cheaper food and products produced to different standards could bring. They felt that if changes to the existing standards regime could result in consumer benefits such as wider choice and cheaper prices, that was something that should be investigated further. 

However, the majority view was that health and safety standards should not be compromised at any cost.

“For my family, I would like to have better choices at cheaper prices but, at the same time, not compromising on standards.”

My personal point of view is that it should be more about choice than having standards so heavily regulated by government bodies and things like that. Obviously, a lot of people disagree with that.”

1 Yonder, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 1,018 Scottish adults online between the 4th and 16th December 2020. The data were weighted to be demographically representative of the Scottish population.

Digital Trade and Data Protection

While people had low awareness of the full spectrum of ways in which data is collected about them, and how that data may affect their consumer lives, they were acutely aware it is valuable to businesses across the globe.

Participants wanted to see existing consumer protections afforded to them – and their data – maintained and not compromised on for the sake of a trade deal. This was true both of their proprietary data and also their rights relating to cross border online shopping and services. 

“The digital platforms will open us to more choices from world trading, but what would the cost be in terms of data protection. This could put the UK consumers in a vulnerable position when buying from the free trade market.”

“I feel consumer rights in online trading platforms should be a major focus of new legislation. I am aware this is somewhat outside the remit of a trade deal, but I feel the trade of data between companies in different countries has implications for these problems.”

Wider issues

Throughout the National Trade Conversation, it was clear that whilst we asked people to answer as a consumer, being a consumer is interwoven with wider views as citizens of the UK. We identified a number of principles that underpinned their priorities which reflected these wider concerns. 

Scottish participants were keen for future trade deals to have as many positive benefits as possible – not just for consumers, but for UK employees and businesses as well.

Participants wanted to see trade deals have a positive impact on the Scottish economy in terms of jobs and investment, and they were also keen for the UK to promote its services expertise and hoped trade deals would allow UK businesses to expand to new markets. 

“Expanding the services we can offer into as many new markets as possible. That would be good…There are opportunities possibly for upskilling workers as well.”

“Everyone needs a job to make a life. If you’re going to have a trade deal, I would say that that has to be right at the very top of the list. I’d put it really high because not only is it good for individuals, it’s good for the company in general because everybody’s paying taxes which then gives more money for public services like the NHS and stuff like that.”

Scottish participants also expressed a view that trade deals felt England (and Westminster) centric and were concerned that Scottish specific interests and concerns were not being adequately represented in negotiations.

Respondents to our December survey also assumed Scotland would have little representation in future trade deal negotiations – whilst 78% thought the UK government would be adequately represented, only 50% felt Scotland would be. In fact, just over a third (36%) felt Scotland would not be represented at all. 

“We’ve got to be included, because we’ve got to consider things like shipping to Ireland, to Orkney, Shetland, because I know as it is they pay a lot more for things getting to them, so all of that kind of thing being taken into deals as well.” 

Protecting the environment was another principle that guided people’s discussions about what they wanted trade deals to deliver. Participants wanted trade deals to help, not hinder, the UK’s ability to deliver its greenhouse gas and carbon emission targets and wanted trade deals to include sustainability provisions.

“Environmental protections came up a lot [when discussing our priorities], as well, including a reduction on tariffs and green products, for example electric cars would be a good example, and you’d have no tariffs on that. It would also lower the price on green products, give us more choice and help the climate.”

What effect do you feel would cheaper imported food produced to a different standard would have for consumers?

Negative effects, such as impacting local industry or weakening overall standards (96%, 22 Votes)

Something else - tell us in the comments (4%, 1 Votes)

Positive effects, such as cheaper prices and wider choice (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 23

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Meaningful benefits for consumers

Overall, the National Trade Conversation revealed a number of insights relating to consumer priorities for trade deals. One important finding is that the UK consumer is a complex individual with a range of perspectives. 

It is inadequate to assume a simplistic view of the consumer, who is entirely focused on choice and price. Their priorities take these into account, but in the context of how these choices affect the environment, health, employment and fair trade.

It is essential that trade deals deliver meaningful benefits for consumers in their everyday lives and Which? will continue to press the government to make sure that the consumer voice is heard in negotiations. 

Learn more about Which?’s work on trade, and read the full report on the National Trade Conversation

Your priorities

If you’re in Scotland, how do these priorities land with you?  Do you share them, or are there other areas which you feel should be prioritized?  

What trends are you seeing among the regional groups?  Do you feel these views are being taken into account in the trade deals the UK is signing post-Brexit? 

Let us know in the comments.