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Brexit: an opportunity for consumer-first trade?

Brexit gives the UK and Australian governments a rare chance to strike up a trade deal putting consumers first. Which? CEO Peter Vicary-Smith and CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland lay out how it can and must be done.

Trade deals are often spoken of as beneficial for industries – what will the agricultural sector get out of this? How will it impact manufacturing? However, these deals also have the potential to deliver massive benefits to individual consumers, something that is all too often left out of the conversation.

The leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom now have an opportunity to demonstrate how an ambitious agreement can improve the everyday lives of consumers, as well as big business.

With the backdrop of Brexit and London as host, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting – with trade the priority – seems to have taken on added importance. We know that Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the UK Prime Minister Theresa May are meeting soon, with a bilateral trade deal top of their agenda.

Anglo-Australian ties

The talks offer a chance to build momentum for a deal, and with several rounds of discussions already having taken place, Australia seems to be in pole position for an important and symbolic agreement.

There is so much to be gained for both countries. There are obvious economic benefits for big business and we could see both countries become larger players in their respective import and export markets.

The negotiations provide the opportunity to give consumers access to cheaper products and services backed by strong safety and quality standards. The chance should be grasped to improve standards on both sides, and raise the bar on quality.

This should not be forgotten, or treated as an afterthought, as it has been in the past. If our governments want to succeed in selling a trade deal to their populations, they need to learn the lessons of ambitious trade deals of the recent past, such as TTIP and TPP.

Learning from past trade deals

Both agreements faced significant public opposition because leaders failed to convince families, workers and consumers that there was something in it for them.

The TPP and TTIP were brokered behind closed doors, and despite detailed consultation with industry groups, little information was provided to the public about what was on the table. When information on the deals was finally released, the benefits to consumers remained unclear.

There is a significant opportunity for a UK-Australia deal that works for consumers, delivering tangible benefits that we can all understand.

Few countries share such close social and cultural ties as Britain and Australia, and a huge number of people travel between the two countries each year. Nearly a million Australians visited the UK in 2016 and hundreds of thousands travelled the other way.

What’s to gain?

So why not expand free mobile roaming, which has proved hugely popular with consumers since it was introduced across the EU? This would end the bill shock that often accompanies the end of a holiday, giving consumers more money to spend on other goods and services.

Travellers could also benefit from better rights when flights are delayed or cancelled – an area where rights under Australian laws are much weaker than in the UK.

This would benefit UK tourists who face problems while travelling in Australia, as well as Australian consumers travelling to the UK, and could pave the way for similar arrangements in other international agreements.

The negotiations should also be a platform for both countries to examine their broken product safety systems – which are failing to keep dangerous goods out of people’s homes.

Dangerous white goods

A recent Which? investigation revealed that faulty appliances are causing 60 house fires a week, while in Australia, tens of thousands of dangerous Samsung washing machines remain in consumers’ homes despite a national recall.

It’s also important that any deal does not come at the cost of compromising existing protection levels in each country. Food safety and quality, for instance, are areas that the UK public feels particularly strongly about, and won’t want the Government to water down standards as part of an agreement with any country.

Securing a positive deal would be a real boost to Which?’s very simple goal when it comes to Britain’s departure from the European Union – for the Government to deliver a Brexit that puts consumers first.

There are clearly both opportunities and challenges ahead, but as the UK leaves the EU, the Government should seize the chance to forge an even better environment for consumers once it is given control over all aspects of consumer protection in areas such as energy, travel and food.

Securing the best Brexit for consumers

In March, Which? launched its Consumer Charter for Brexit that sets out what needs to happen across a number of sectors to minimise the risks and maximise the opportunities of the UK’s departure.

Politicians from all parties, the Government and business should all get behind this vision and work with Which? to ensure that the UK becomes a true world-leader in consumer protection.

As the leading consumer groups in both the UK and Australia, Which? and CHOICE believe that free trade can provide access to better goods and services at fairer prices, but only if negotiators focus on the issues that matter most to consumers – standards, choice, rights and price.

If an agreement between our two countries embraces these concepts and delivers for consumers then it could well set the standard for a new wave of trade deals that enjoy widespread community support – not just for Brexit Britain and Australia – but across the world.

Do you think Brexit will empower consumers? And would you want to see more Australian goods and services in the UK?

This piece originally appeared on The Telegraph website.


Please can our Which? and Choice representatives suggest a practical system that will ensure that those who own a recalled product can reliably be informed that this must be repaired or replaced promptly. This needs to take into account secondhand products, which may be purchased, passed on or integrated appliances purchased with a home.

Both CEOs could look at past Which? Convos and develop some of the ideas that have been suggested on product recall.

As the leading consumer groups in both the UK and Australia, Which? and CHOICE believe that free trade can provide access to better goods and services at fairer prices, but only if negotiators focus on the issues that matter most to consumers – standards, choice, rights and price.“.

Standards will remain based on those produced internationally. The best way to address these is to take a full part in the standards development process. Choice already do this with their national body. It seems Which? have just begun to work with BSI.

Australia seems to lack the consumer rights legislation that we have (Consumer Rights Act 2015 that gives up to 6 years legal protection). Our problem is we seem not to use it. We should make sure all retailers display our rights, and advise customers properly when they have a problem. It is against the law not to. Which? could perhaps be more proactive by helping consumers who have had problems pursue a legal remedy. I think the Indesit dryer problem was a classic opportunity to use SoGA (Sale of Goods Act) to help get a proportion of owners proper redress in a reasonable time, particularly when many of the dryers were admitted to be “unsafe” – an explicit requirement of SoGA that should have resulted in swift resolution for those owners. But it was not used. Instead, we were advised to unplug the unsafe appliance.

Choice – I haven’t seen evidence that we, in the UK, lack choice.

Price – this seems to vary so much even within Europe. A Which? Best Buy recommended to be purchased from amazon in the UK could be bought online from Holland more than 20% cheaper. Products from the USA are often significantly cheaper than we can buy here. The internet shows how shopping around can save a lot of money. Is this something we can deal with? I would not want to see the return of resale price maintenance.

However, we need to consider more than Australia – apart from continuing a trading relationship with the EU we must consider North and South America, and Asia – a world wide market. Perhaps Consumers’ Associations like Which? and Choice should band together with other national consumers’ associations to look after consumers worldwide, just as international standards organisations try to achieve.

I had to read the convo introduction twice , everybody is complaining of the secrecy involved in Brexit and it has to be brought out shouting and screaming from the government to tell the public exactly whats going on . Even “revolution ” in the Tory party as to the approach to take in dealing with the EU , FREE Trade – ye gods !! I have been posting for a long time on the TOTAL secrecy of the UK governments dealing with Donald because Donald has said – WE will get the advantage in ANY dealings with ANY foreign country to loud applause in the USA . Yet little is said on what I say except one or two regulars who seem to agree with me . Lets get some honesty here Donald insists US conglomerates can SUE local BRITISH authorities if they think they are being forced out of local deals because the LOCAL voters want LOCAL businesses to get the work and JOBS . Look I get emails from Donald,s Press office in the Whitehouse bull-horning the fact that America First Policy will prevail and its boosting his popularity in the USA in the working class and middle class because of rises in employment and agreement with him . The people in this country are not getting the full facts when American citizens are being informed of his dealings abroad , if anybody thinks we will be greatly advantaged compared to the USA then they are living in cloud cuckoo land . Donald is looking after number one and AMERICA – quite rightly in my view but our weak government in combating him is a disgrace and “Open Britain ” should be binned and the government apply the same trading methods as Donald in all its trade deals – BRITAIN FIRST – not second-third-or fourth. If that sounds nationalistic I dont care as thats how America operates a very nationalistic country. Hoist the Union Jack – not the White Flag.

From the introduction: “And would you want to see more Australian goods and services in the UK?” Maybe, but we have enough of a problem with electrical goods fitted with the wrong plug being sold in the UK. 🙁

Rather than transporting goods from Australia to the UK and vice versa, perhaps cooperation between Which? and Choice would be more viable. If this is already happening it would be good to know.

” The TPP and TTIP were brokered behind closed doors, and despite detailed consultation with industry groups, little information was provided to the public about what was on the table. When information on the deals was finally released, the benefits to consumers remained unclear.”

Which? failed to report on the negotiations at all so one is slightly bemused that they [Which?] are being critical after the event. Telling readers at the time of the vast number of industry lobbyists being deployed in Brussels for TTIP would have been useful to alert consumers. That BEUC did right informative articles that were not featured by Which? did show a lack of cooperation with our fellow EU consumer groups.

I have great respect for CHOICE and wish its admirable combativeness and value for money ethos was imported into Which? HQ.

B Barnes says:
20 July 2018

So many restrictions and financial commitments were agreed with the EU by governments who failed to accept or understand the needs of UK citizens. Gordon Brown signed up to the Lisbon treaty saying people didn’t need to know the detail.
If we cannot simply tear up the contracts and walk away, then explain why.
Bring Nigel Farage onto the stage to control Olly,Mrs May’s adviser.
Why won’t the remainers accept a democratic decision?
Do many of the more influential remoan ers stand to lose out on personal financial perks?
Is this really about keeping the lid on corruption?

I do hope that we succeed in trading with all the outside world but let us not forget there should be standards expected from THEM. For instance, all lamb exported from Australia and New Zealand are slaughter according to HALAL rules. Animal welfare is more important to me than receiving a large cash refund from a delayed cheap flight.

I take it that includes the Jewish ritual slaughter done , usually, in the presence of a Rabbi M.E.Mackert – no stun gun included also . https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-ritual-slaughter-shechitah. In Scotland a Rabbi has to travel from the Midlands to places in the north of Scotland as ,as far as I know, there isn’t a “shochet ” in Scotland. Dont click on the above post if you are squeamish !

One of the initial problems is that the Remainers are negotiating Brexit. However, whatever the outcome the standards set here in the UK must at least be met or bettered by others doing business with ourselves. This means that our food importers, supermarkets, other suppliers must meet the hygiene and safety standards as set and hopefully monitored by the likes of Which? and other similar organisations world wide. This may be difficult as UK is a multicultural society possibly more so than some of our European neighbours.
Trump may put America first but in no way does that mean USA makes international agreements which enables exporting sub standard goods.
Whatever is initially agreed as Brexit must be monitored and changed if unilaterally necessary.

Look Anthony I am as nationalistic as the next man but I live in world of reality , give me your opinion on this Guardian article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/29/britain-us-trade-deal-gm-food-eu-rules