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.
Use the dropdown toggles to expand or collapse each section
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.