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National Trade Conversation: Wales

the Visual Minutes of the National Trade Conversation in South Wales

We asked consumers around the UK for their views on trade.  Here are the views from South Wales.

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.  Last week we shared highlights from the Northern Irish and the Scottish Group.  Today, on St David’s Day, we share highlights of the group from South Wales.  

Read our full series on the National Trade Conversation

Use the dropdown toggles to expand or collapse each section

Food Standards

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

A race to the top instead of a race to the bottom. That’s what I would like to see, in terms of standards.

In a supplementary survey of 1031 Welsh consumers, half (50%) ranked “maintaining existing health & safety standards for food and other products” as their top priority for UK trading objectives. People did not want to see food produced to lower standards imported into the UK – even if there was the potential for lower prices. They were concerned that lower prices of lower quality imported food could cause harm both in the UK and in other trading nations by:

  • Impacting on health or safety of consumers
  • undercutting UK farmers and food producers
  • causing environmental harms
  • encouraging poor labour standards
  • undermining fair trade.

There was a strong sense that any potential benefits from increasing choice as a result of accepting food produced to lower standards were greatly outweighed by these disadvantages.

Welsh participants did not feel that cheaper food would actually benefit those on the lowest incomes, as they felt lower quality food would have a range of health and environmental implications.

“I would never want to compromise on food standards. I understand the issue of price and that some low income workers may struggle if the price increases as a result of these higher standards but I believe the government should then look at the minimum wage and compensate for this.”

Product Safety

Participants in Wales were also keen to see the safety standards of non-food products maintained in future trade deals. After learning about how standards can differ across countries, they thought trade deals should only improve standards and negotiators certainly shouldn’t risk a reduction in the UK’s current standards. 

Although participants wanted reasonable prices, they weren’t prepared to sacrifice quality in order to achieve this, and felt there was little need for more choice of consumer goods in the UK.

“The overall consensus is most definitely safety standards and ensuring that whatever deals are agreed still continue to meet the same safety standards that UK consumers have come to rely upon.”

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 most important thing to me as a consumer is data protection and sharing of personal data – this should not be compromised and the regulation should be maintained to keep consumer privacy.”

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. 

One principle was that trade deals should have fairness at their heart and should be beneficial for all involved. Many of the Welsh participants were concerned that benefits from future trade deals may be skewed towards London and the South East of England and they wanted the government to help those who would need to re-skill if their industry loses out.

“The decisions taken now about what we trade with other countries on preferential terms will have a massive impact on which industries have optimum conditions for growth and which industries may possibly die out. This has particular implications for education and training and on prospects in certain regions – the example of Tata Steel in Port Talbot springs to mind.”

Another facet of the fairness principle was the desire for trade deals to reflect the whole of the UK. A prominent theme of our discussions was that trade deals were England centric and lacked appropriate representation from the devolved nations.  

Respondents to our December survey also assumed Wales would have little representation in future trade deal negotiations – whilst 78% thought the UK government would be adequately represented, only 55% felt Wales would be. In fact, just over a quarter (28%) felt Wales would not be represented at all. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how many others shared the view…that largely Westminster doesn’t stand up for Welsh people.

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. They were keen for trade deals to be ‘green’ and to promote sustainability.


We’ve got to either accept that we’re going to have a bigger carbon footprint to have cheaper prices or a smaller carbon footprint to have a little bit more moral, ethical values of the British people if that’s what we want to stick by.”

How strongly, if at all, do you feel that sustainability should be part of the future trade deals negotiated by the UK?

Strongly: sustainability should be at the core of future trade deals (68%, 23 Votes)

Partially: sustainability should feature, but not be an essential condition of future trade deals (21%, 7 Votes)

Little or not at all: sustainability is not essential for future trade deals (6%, 2 Votes)

Something else - tell us in the comments (6%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 34

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Complexities of the UK Consumer

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

What are your priorities?  

How do these priorities land with you?  If you’re in Wales, do you feel these represent your view, or is there more that you’d like to see happen when future deals are being negotiated?  

Let us know in the comments.

Comments

Most of the issues in the above article have already been discussed and debated at length by members of Which? Conversation in the recent past, and they have demonstrated their frustration at Which? failing to address them,

I think it is important for the UK to first utilise the resources available to them, post Brexit, from all 4 regions before exporting goods to other countries in the interim period, whilst recovering from the pandemic, and to pay more attention to the widening gap between the rich and poor in the north and south and also on improving all 4 country’s infrastructure, to enable the free flow of transporting goods and services to all areas.

Current continuing political issues north of the border are a cause for concern and in need of addressing before any trade deals can proceed, and all thoughts of referenda for Scottish independence laid to rest if the UK is to pull together, without the whims and threats of nationalistic political leaders who persist in the notion they are powerful and strong enough to go it alone by breaking up the Union of the UK.

Climate change needs addressing if we are to become more self sufficient in growing our own food. Animal husbandry and the control of pesticides and other toxic substances that threaten all 4 nations health and well-being also need more regulation, and there needs to be more focus on growing more affordable organic produce.

Sustainability does not necessarily mean an excess of availability. All trade deals should be negotiated with country’s that respect the health and welfare of their own, as well as others on the planet, by cutting emissions to a minimum, producing fewer cheap factory produced plastic goods that end up in large in-fill land waste sites, polluting the earth, the oceans and the air we breathe.

I could go on, but I will hand over to other Convo members to add to my deliberations. Suffice to say, now we are open to all future, hopefully free trade deals around the world, exempt from threatened tariffs and the confines of the EU, the focus will remain on producing goods that come with a ‘Made in Britain’ label attached that guarantees the sustainable, reliable and attested assurance of 4 united nation states, capable of negotiating fair trade deals with any other country, large or small, that is interested in what we have to offer.

Dennis Larder says:
20 March 2021

I mostly agree with the earlier parts of Beryl’s comments. However: Does ‘The UK’ export goods or is it, as I believe, individual UK-owned AND foreign-owned businesses in UK that do this and is it not the combination trade that is of paramount importance to the welfare of all the British?
Her ‘north of the border’ comment indicates to me she is probably resident in England. The ‘United’ bit of ‘UK’ is surely not a matter for the Scottish, N Irish, Welsh or English alone to decide, but for all the British to do that: devolution has already been instrumental in beginning the disenfranchisment of swathes of British residents. New UK-wide legislation should knock on the head any of the devolved administrations becoming separated politically from the others without a common democratic franchise. That the Labour party leadership considers that only Scots should be involved is an enathema.