Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Wednesday 27th January 2021

(9 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Relevant document: 41st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. The content of this SI is reserved, but a draft version was shared with devolved Administrations for comment; only minor drafting points were raised, which we addressed in full. I make it clear that these regulations do not change our policy or make new policy; instead, they principally amend retained EU legislation to ensure that the relevant regulations operate in Great Britain.

The amendments made by this instrument primarily concern geographical indications, or GIs. They also include transitioning obligations in EU wines and spirits agreements and extend to trade between the UK and the EU in wine and organic products. GIs are a form of intellectual property protection for the names of food, drink and agricultural products with qualities attributable to the place where they are produced or to the traditional methods by which they are made.

Until the end of the transition period, we operated under the EU’s GI schemes. The EU and the UK have not included a section on GIs in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement. This means that UK GIs which were on the EU register at the end of the transition period remain protected in the EU and vice versa, but there is no automatic protection for names registered after the end of the transition period. We have instead included a review clause which allows us to agree rules on the protection of GIs in future, should we so wish. The UK retains full autonomy over its own GI regimes.

As of 1 January, the UK has had an independent, fully functioning GI regime. As the competent authority, Defra manages the schemes with the devolved Administrations and handles domestic and international applications. Guidance on the application process is online. The schemes cover spirits, wines, aromatised wines, and food and agricultural products. Examples range from Wensleydale cheese to products such as native Shetland wool. There are many more; I am sure that many noble Lords have GIs of their own that are special to them.

This instrument amends existing GI regulations to ensure that they are fit for purpose and work as intended. It also allows the UK to use bridging arrangements to continue to protect GIs from countries where a trade deal was agreed but is not yet ratified, at the end of the transition period. This will ensure that GIs already protected in the UK do not lose their protection due to a long ratification process.

This instrument also adds an additional category of GI to ensure that the Japanese GI Kumamoto rush remains protected in the UK. This is a long-stemmed grass that is traditionally dried and woven into mats in the Kumamoto region of Japan. It can be grown only in that region. This was previously protected in the EU under the EU-Japan trade agreement, but it did not fit within any of the GI product categories which the UK inherited from the EU. The addition of this category provides a clear basis on which to continue to protect the GI under the UK-Japan agreement. This does not change our policy; we are simply correcting a deficiency in EU legislation.

On spirit drinks, this instrument provides for the ongoing protection of US product names, and Mexican names once transitioned in the UK, to reflect the transitional EU agreements. It also enables the retained EU spirit drinks regulations for GIs to function correctly in relation to protection and enforcement. For wines, this instrument amends retained EU regulations that provide a basis for protecting US wine names of origin in the UK to make them operable. In doing that, it also creates the necessary basis for enforcement in the UK.

This instrument also includes several non-GI provisions. It introduces a six-month easement on the new requirement for EU wines imported to the UK to be accompanied by a VI-1 certificate. This certificate provides information on the type and analytical composition of a wine. We worked with the wine trade to assess the impacts of this certification requirement on the industry. As a result, we have introduced this easement to minimise the potential for disruption to the UK market by allowing EU imports to arrive under the same commercial documents used while the UK was a member state. New and simplified certification arrangements are set out in the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement to cover movements of EU and UK origin wines.

On organics, we have extended our recognition of the EU and EEA states as equivalent and updated their list of control bodies. We have also ensured that organic products from the EU, EEA and Switzerland are able to continue to flow smoothly into Great Britain by providing a six-month easement on the requirement for certificates of inspection for such products.

The amendments made by this instrument are essential for a smooth transition. Without them, international obligations would not be met, retained EU legislation would not be operable and vital transitional provisions would not be in place. For those reasons, I commend the instrument to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his patience and consideration in introducing this SI to us today. It is very much appreciated. Once again, we are essentially considering a piece of legislation which aims to protect the British public and producers in light of our having left the European Union. This is an incredibly difficult but necessary task if we are to retain the benefits of trade with the European Union and attempt to increase our trade with the rest of the world.

I appreciate that this is more or less a technical SI that does not introduce any new policy. It appears particularly comprehensive, with so much emphasis on GIs, as well as relating to wines and spirits. Geographical indications are very important for Britain as we go forward and extend our trade into the wider world; they are already very extensive, with the UK list covering over 104 pages. As the Minister says, it offers protection to food and drink manufacturers in particular locations and their means of production in the UK, the European Union and the wider world. These stretch from Arbroath smokies through to Cornish pasties, Cumberland sausages and even Yorkshire forced rhubarb. I am glad that the Government are committed to this. Can he confirm that the Government are committed to the GI system of protection and have already signed a number of trade agreements with the European Union and other countries which encompass it? Am I right in thinking also that this SI provides a bridging route for such agreements which are still in the process of transition?

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I wish to clarify the parts of these regulations relating to the movement of wine into this country from the EU. I also have a question relating to the shipment of wine from Great Britain to the EU. This industry is important. The UK is a major global hub for wine. In the UK we consume 12 million bottles of wine a day, and about half of those come from the EU. In the first two weeks of this year, businesses were able to import only 144,000 bottles from the EU, meaning stocks were depleted by some 11.7 million bottles a day during this period. Can the Minister provide the latest information on amounts imported? The obvious outcome of stock depletion at this rate is scarcity and an increase in prices, as has been pointed out by south Wales wine importer Daniel Lambert in many media outlets.

As for trade in the other direction, wine is the sixth most important food and drink export from Great Britain—more valuable than beer and beef. The main question I wish to pose about these regulations is on the nature of this six-month easement. Is it an opportunity to get a new smoother procedure in place, or is it simply to provide a period for the wine trade to get used to handling the proposed new system? Will policy change? Will there be further negotiation to remove the non-tariff barriers that trade is now facing?

The VI-1 form, which was used to protect EU wine from cheap imports, is proposed to be largely replicated save for the lab test requirement for alcohol content. This is a cumbersome approach. The clunky government CHIEF system operated by HMRC is already proving very difficult for the wine trade. Parts of it are impenetrable or not functioning adequately, and this will have contributed to the drastic reduction in the number of bottles imported into Great Britain. Is there now a telephone hotline for advice in place, or must the trade rely on an email system which returns queries within five days? Article 3 of annexe TBT-5 to the TCA refers to a preference for an electronic system for documentation. That would be a major improvement. Paperwork is a major non-tariff barrier, and I would be grateful for an explanation of whether the Government intend to achieve that electronic process within the six-month period.

The Minister will be aware that wines from countries such as Chile are imported tariff-free into the UK in bulk, bottled at a UK bottling plant and then re-exported to the EU. There are great fears that the additional costs of re-exporting will endanger this trade and bottling plants in Great Britain. Can he provide any reassurance to this part of the industry?

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association is finding it very difficult to be able to express its concerns to Ministers. Would the Minister be prepared to meet me and its representatives to discuss their concerns? This would be a really important indication that the Government wished to allay the fears of the sector.

I realise I have asked a lot of questions of the Minister and I hope that, if he cannot reply today, he can do so in writing.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his presentation. Many of us in different capacities, as elected as well as unelected representatives, have fought for recognition of various UK products under GI and the protection it affords them. Some examples are Melton Mowbray pork pies, Cornish pasties and, of most interest to me, Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese—not to forget as the noble Lord, Lord Clark, mentioned, Yorkshire rhubarb.

In the EU, four separate schemes protect particular European brands and products. I am therefore pleased that the Government, with EU assistance, seem determined to maintain a scheme that carries over this mutual protection, thus saving us from Wensleydale cheese from Normandy or Melton Mowbray pies from Bavaria.

I think that this SI sets down only the instruments for final agreement to be reached on this arrangement. It certainly introduces a new domestic registration process, accessible by home and overseas providers, which is very important bearing in mind that geographically protected goods are no less than 25% of our food and drink exports each year, worth several billion pounds. However, the infrastructure to carry out the registration of current and new GI products may not be fully in place yet. Can my noble friend clarify this?

Can my noble friend also confirm how current EU GI products are to be reregistered in the UK? Are these changes, which the Government seem to be suggesting will make the process quicker and easier than under EU control, likely to be more expensive for applicants? In the event of an appeal process being utilised, what extra costs are envisaged? Will such a process be as equally streamlined as the basic application process? How will the implementation of these new arrangements be monitored, so that they are seen to work as fairly and as well as those that preceded them? In view of the need to alter promotional material, including with a new logo, what assistance and resources might the Government offer to assist business, especially the smaller and more specialist businesses, which are often the GI stars?

As a result of European law there was always a built-in equity, where GIs were granted to avoid unfair competition. Are the Government happy that this will be the case in future? This is so that European products such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Polish vodka, Bavarian beer and champagne, which are no doubt enjoyed by many UK citizens—though in the latter case, I think not by Members of your Lordships’ House—will continue to be properly protected and not suffer any discrimination or lack of supply. Of course, we all wish to encourage the consumption of our own food and wine, but as a global nation now we should also facilitate the cosmopolitan tastes of our citizens as far as possible.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the statutory instrument so expertly. I will leave the organic question to when we discuss the next statutory instrument. I declare my interest as I chair the board of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme, a member of which is the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Like others, I have been involved as a former MEP with trying to protect geographic indicators. I pay tribute to the imagination of some producers such as Shepherds Purse Cheeses, which was unable to retain the denomination of Yorkshire feta, as obviously it is produced in North Yorkshire near Thirsk and not in Greece. It changed the name to Yorkshire Fettle. We have yet to successfully obtain the badge for Yorkshire pudding.

I would like to put two small requests to the Minister regarding the wine trade here. The first relates to the removal of the form VI-1 for non-EU wines. Now we have left the European Union and reached the end of the transition period, why are we seeking to automatically roll over EU regulations—especially when they work to the disadvantage of British importers and consumers? I understand that 99% of the wine consumed in the UK is imported and that half that wine is from the European Union. It would make sense not just to keep this under review, but to remove the requirement set out in form VI-1. When this was discussed in the House of Commons, my honourable friend the Minister, Victoria Prentis, said in reply:

“we will consider in due course whether there is a case for revisiting the requirements of the VI-1 certification.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 25/1/21; col. 8.]

I put it to the Minister today that there is no time like the present. Can we review it and scrap the requirements of VI-1?

My second request is to look at what was set out by the noble Lord, Lord German, so I will not repeat the technical details. But on annexe TBT-5 and the requirements for an electronic system, can my noble friend put a date on when that will come into effect? If it is within the next six months or slightly beyond that, can we again look at dispensing with the paper form requirements, which we have seen cause such difficulties since 1 January and leapfrog over to introduce the electronic system as soon as possible? Let us hope that it will not have the same teething problems as we have experienced with other customs requirements since 1 January.

Lord Jones Portrait Lord Jones (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his by now traditional and felicitous introduction of these regulations, which one supports. When I was in another place for 31 years, the NFU would take me each year to four or five farms, both estuarine and hill. Thus one knows enough of farming to know that one does not know.

The persuasive Ms Minette Batters, the NFU president, tells us that food and drink is Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, raising £120 billion annually and employing nearly 4 million fellow citizens. These are massive figures and thus the regulations are urgent. The Economist magazine of 28 November 2020 states that Britain grows or produces some two-thirds of its own food and drink. Surely, we should not let that share fall further. The Royal Agricultural Society would confirm that, in 1984, Britain could have survived for 306 days solely on British produce—its own food and drink. Today, that figure is 233 days, so the respected RAS says. These figures say it all. So much now depends on the recent radical ground-breaking Agriculture Act. Britain’s food and drink security is vital.

To conclude, I make the strongest plea—not for the first time—for the upland farmers and especially their product: sheep meat? They are superb food producers and very much part of British agriculture. The hill farms of the Peak, the Lakes, the moors of the Dart and Ex, and my own homeland—the lovely land of Wales; geographic indeed—are always up against it. Heavy rainfall, ferocious gales, cruel frosts, and snowstorms for ever challenge this most heroic segment of the industry. Yet they deliver—they always deliver. These shepherds at altitude—she and he—need the best possible deal. They remain the backbone of their communities and sustain an especial culture, one that is distinct and ancient. In my homeland, there is also the language of heaven, which must prosper. Of course, our Welsh lamb is the very best, especially with a good red wine.

Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey (UUP) [V]
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In his introduction, the Minister referred to the GI regime. As I understand it, we have effectively acknowledged each other’s position as at the end of the transition period. However, he indicated that there will now be a separation, so the obvious question is, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, which regime will it be subjected to? Will it follow what the European Union decides in terms of GIs or will it follow what Great Britain decides?

Part 4 of the instrument has three chapters and—as has been the case with all the SIs in recent months—one of them, chapter 3, makes amendments that extend to Northern Ireland, while chapter 2 makes amendments that extend to Great Britain. We are all Peers of the United Kingdom as opposed to Peers of any particular region, but we have now built up a massive amount of technical instruments where there are differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I would appreciate it if the Minister and his department could prepare, when these SIs are concluded, a compendium of differences between the areas, because it is extremely difficult to follow.

As time goes by, each day brings a new challenge. Today’s comes from Amazon, which—as one of the most sophisticated retailers in the world—says that it will have to withdraw a number of products. It has already stopped selling alcohol because it would be subject to two amounts of excise duty. We will not even be able to have our busy Lizzies and begonias introduced from Great Britain because British soil is no longer allowed. This is happening every day and, naturally enough, people are asking us where all this is going and what it means. Can the Minister prevail upon his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to desist from maintaining that there is no border in the Irish Sea? It is becoming increasingly a source of anger and dismay among our business community and the general public that we are trying to pretend—like King Canute—that the tide has not come in, when in fact it is there every day for hauliers and businesspeople to deal with.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for introducing these SIs in his normal clear way. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey, with his insistence that we should acknowledge the obvious: there is now a border in the Irish Sea. Sad though this may be, it is there and it is causing problems every day, as he said.

These are important instruments, because they affect the future of our food and drink exports. GI products represent around a quarter of UK food and drink exports—they certainly did in 2019. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as someone with a great affection for stilton cheese, Welsh lamb and many of the other delicious that we manufacture in this country.

These regulations, however, like everything to do with our future trade with Europe, do not make life easier for our exporters. They may provide a streamlined process for those who want to sell their products only in Great Britain, but very few food producers will not be interested in exporting, and the European Union will be the established market for very many of them.

The withdrawal agreement was reassuring on the future of GI recognition on both sides, but the trade and co-operation agreement is—as in so many aspects—sketchy. It has just four lines dealing with the issue of GIs, which say that the EU and the UK

“may jointly use reasonable endeavours to agree rules for the protection and effective domestic enforcement of their geographical indications.”

The Minister told us that existing GIs recognised in Europe would continue to be recognised in the new regime. I would be grateful if he could tell the House on what grounds he remains to sanguine about the prospects for UK producers in their export to the EU.

The EU is currently proposing to revise its rules on GIs, in part to reflect sustainability. The UK is of course increasingly committed to sustainability, but can the Minister say whether the UK’s new GI recognition rules will incorporate sustainability and whether they will mirror the EU’s proposed rules? If not, can he say what the consequences might be for UK producers?

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his explanation of the regulations. I note from doing some research in advance of the debate that apparently they build on the previous regulations that could not deal specifically with GI matters. In his submission, he referred to this instrument being reserved, there having been discussions with the devolved Administrations and, as a consequence, there being only minor drafting points. Could he outline what those were and say whether Northern Ireland is subject to the rules of the protocol or the exact rules of this statutory instrument? References have already been made to that by the noble Lord, Lord Empey.

I note the reference in the SI to organic food and feed. Is the Minister aware that one of the UK’s biggest health food businesses says that the new post-Brexit system for sending organic food from GB to Northern Ireland is a “nightmare” as a consequence of the Brexit protocol? It requires a certificate of inspection and the UK Government have said that they will talk to the EU about streamlining the process. No doubt it needs to be streamlined and resolved. Does he know or can he find out whether such discussions have taken place, and their outcome?

Organic foods imported into Northern Ireland require a large degree of complexity. The exporter has to make an entry on an EU system known as TRACES NT, and key in details such as weight, origin and whether any goods are high risk. For a consignment going to retailers, that will involve dozens or even hundreds of individual entries. Details then need to be checked and approved by a certification body such as the Soil Association. When the goods arrive in Northern Ireland, a certified importer must confirm that they have been received. At the moment, they are looking at a three-month grace period, but what happens when April arrives and that is over?

Will this piece of technical legislation help to alleviate the problems experienced by those involved in the organic farming and food industry?

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. Oh, we have a difficulty with that, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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My Lords, with respect, I should speak now. I replaced the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. That was agreed by the authorities. Could I please have my three minutes? It has been on the official list since lunchtime.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we will proceed with the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, while we resolve the issue around other speakers on the list.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening remarks and for arranging with his officials a debrief on the SIs in advance of today. That was extremely helpful. I certainly do not oppose this SI. As the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, said, it is a complex task to find a system that protects both consumers and traders as we move post Brexit. However, this is the second such SI in less than two months. I am glad that the Minister has not said what a colleague of his said on the earlier one—that he was confident that these statutory instruments had been drafted to make the new system work. It is clear that this is complex and that we will need more of them. This SI recognises in a welcome way the mutual recognition of organic standards between the EU and the UK until the end of the year. As some noble Lords will know, the TCA recognises those mutual standards until the end of 2023, so we will certainly need another SI in the future, if not the near future, on that.

The bridging arrangements proposed are reasonable, as are the proposals for the new category for the Japanese rush grass. I particularly commend the remarks of my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on the future arrangements for wine. However, as Baroness Parminter, of Godalming, I fear I should declare an interest, given that the Sainsbury’s food survey at the end of 2020 showed that Godalming took the title for having consumed the most wine in the whole year.

One figure that was not referred to by my noble friend Lord German about just how much wine came to the UK from the EU was the number of bottles, which puts into perspective for me the amount we are talking about. Yes, over half our wine comes from the EU, but on an annual basis that is just under a billion bottles, so how these matters are handled is significant. Given that wine importers were not previously required to have certification for coming from the EU, that could well be another cost from Brexit passed on to consumers. I certainly echo my noble friend’s comments and hope that the matter can be pursued speedily with the relevant wine association.

The issue that I want to raise that has not been touched on by noble Lords is the fact that the SI amends the regulations concerning geographic indications. Indeed, the Explanatory Memorandum specifically refers—I apologise in advance to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick—to Lough Neagh eels. I learned today that, due to Brexit and the operation of the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland fishermen will not be able to sell one-fifth of their catch in Britain. In the past, it has gone to Billingsgate for sale as jellied eels, and there are issues about restocking the lough with juvenile fish, which previously came from other parts of the UK. On the SI on 30 November we discussed this, the issue of GI logos post Brexit—including four Northern Ireland products, one of which being Lough Neagh eels—the requirement to carry on using the EU logo and being under EU regulations for any implementation of the GI scheme, and the possibility of joining the UK GI scheme as well if that were wished.

The Explanatory Memorandum of the 30 November SI also mentioned Lough Neagh eels, yet there was no mention then or today of this problem being a result of Brexit and the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Given that the ban of sales with any country outside the EU has been as part of the wider conservation measures in EU legislation since 2010, I must ask the Minister why the issue was not mentioned in the debate on the previous SI or today. Given that those specific GI eels cannot be sold now in the UK, does Brexit mean that jellied eels are off the menu in Britain, or is he confident that there are adequate supplies in the rest of the UK so that the British appetite for those jellied eels can be satisfied?

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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We had technical difficulties of various kinds earlier with the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Bhatia and Lord Naseby, so I will see whether we can deal with that now. I call the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. No? We do not seem to be having much luck there, so let us move on to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will focus only on the wine aspect. I declare an interest as a member of WineGB and as a small grower myself. However, I am particularly interested in two aspects: French wines—I am an active member of the Champagne group, Bordeaux and Tastevin, which is of course Burgundy—and Chile. The noble Lord, Lord German, quite rightly made the point about Chile. I run an organisation called the Cofradia del Vino Chileno, which is a wine-drinking operation. Chile is a vital friend of this country, and a significant amount of gallonage is bottled here in the UK and exported to France. That trade is vital for Chile and for us. I ask noble Lords to read and listen to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord German.

On the wider aspect of the other dimensions of wine, we are talking about the bridging arrangements, which are very important. Nevertheless, it is the judgment of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association—which, as we know, states that 99% of all wine consumed in the UK is imported—that it makes little sense to roll over EU-based legislation. It asserts and hopes that the Government agree that the so-called new simplified approach to wine import documentation in the trade and co-operation—[Inaudible.]

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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Lord Naseby, we seem to have lost your sound.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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I was talking about the trade and co-operation agreement and that continuing requirement, which is burdensome. Wine importers have to fill out costly VI-1 forms. The trade association therefore suggests that the requirement should be removed completely, and recommends that the wine import documentation from the EU should be held over until the electronic systems foreseen for trade in wine can be introduced. I hope that the Minister will answer that important point in writing if he cannot answer it today.

I thank your Lordships and apologise for the challenge this afternoon.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I will try the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, again. He has had some technical problems but we will have one more go. Lord Bhatia. No? I fear we will have to move on. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction and for his helpful briefing with officials beforehand.

This SI was approved using the procedure in place for reasons of urgency but it is nevertheless important that we give its content due scrutiny. As noble Lords have said, it covers a range of trade issues, focusing on their designation of origin or geographical indications. These can be hugely important in adding value to agricultural products, so it is important that we do all we can to protect the trading opportunities of UK producers. That point was very well made by a number of noble Lords in the debate, and we all have our own local produce that we hold dear.

The point on the particular problems across the Northern Ireland border, which was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, seems to be a running theme in some of the debates we are having around Defra SIs. I hope that the Minister in his response will be able to provide reassurance that what I hope are teething problems across the border in the Irish Sea can be addressed in short order.

In the meantime, I have some specific questions. First, the Minister made reference to the trade and co-operation agreement. It is a lengthy document but can he clarify how we will implement its contents? Will there be a succession of SIs to deliver all the references to food and agriculture trade in the agreement and how do the Government intend to roll that agreement out?

Secondly, as has been said, the SI sets out the interim bridging arrangements to protect third-country GIs where a trade continuity agreement has been made but not ratified. There is no date for the end of the bridging arrangements, so can the Minister clarify when he anticipates that these interim arrangements will cease?

Thirdly, the Minister explained the actions necessary to protect Kumamoto rush as part of the UK-Japan trade deal. This involved having to create a separate GI project category. Given that that seems a rather bureaucratic way to approach this issue, has the department given any thought to rationalising and simplifying the GI product categories for the future so that we do not have to have a lot of separate categories for specialist products?

Fourthly, I was interested to read that a UK-USA wine agreement will into force on 1 February 2021—I had not been aware of that up until that point. I am sure that that is very welcome, but can the Minister explain how it feeds into the overall UK-USA trade negotiations? As we know, they have been subject to much press attention and remain unresolved. Is the plan that there will continue to be separate individual product agreements outside the main negotiations, along the lines of the one that clearly has been made on wine?

Fifthly, with regard to the trade and co-operation agreement, it seems that the proposal that EU wine will need to have a VI-1 certificate to be imported here is overly bureaucratic and not in the UK’s interests. Indeed, as a number of noble Lords said, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association has been in touch, saying much the same thing. In its briefing, it says that while it understood the need to have an import certificate from third countries while we were part of the EU, now that we have left it makes no sense for the EU legislation to be automatically rolled over, particularly when it disadvantages British importers and consumers. It goes on to say that annexe TBT-5 of the TCA says that either party “may” introduce wine certification but not that it is necessary. Can the Minister explain why it was felt necessary to introduce these measures at this time, and can he explain the timetable for renewing that decision given that there is so much disquiet about it?

Also, there are proposals in annexe TBT-5 for a self-certification system to be put in place. Can the Minister clarify when those arrangements will come into effect and whether he feels that this will indeed address some of the concerns that have been raised today? The annexe also states that no later than three years from the agreement, the parties will consider further steps to facilitate trade in wine between the parties. Does the Minister accept that, given the strength of feeling on this issue that has been raised in the debate today, that review should happen sooner rather than later?

We will return to the issue of organics in the debate later, when I will make my comments on that. I am pleased, however, that separate arrangements have been put in place to protect the EU market for UK organic exports. Part of this will need to be developing an identifiable UK organic logo in the longer term. In the meantime, I want to ask the Minister about the views of the UK Organic Certifiers Group. The EM says that it has been consulted on the proposals, but it does not say that it has approved them. Can the Minister clarify its views on the proposals before us today? I look forward to his response.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner (Con) [V]
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Yet again, we have had a thought-provoking debate. In the time I have, I am not going to be able to address some of the more detailed and technical questions, but I shall write very fully on all outstanding points.

I thought the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, at the very beginning about the importance of the protection of the public and, indeed, producers, was very important. I can certainly give the Government’s commitment to the GI system. It is a very important feature, and an indicator. All noble Lords have raised so many products, and I have no time to talk about them or many more, but the GI system plays an important role as an exemplar of our quality produce.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, mentioned farmers who, in difficult weather are, thank goodness, producing food for the nation. All I would say is that our diet has become much more varied. Noble Lords have expressed the need for imports, and I agree with that, but may I plug the importance of eating seasonally as well? There are some very good UK products that I think are very satisfactory. We might think about that in terms of the point made by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft about sustainability, which is about many of these things and how we work sustainably.

The other point raised by many noble Lords was about border issues. I am very conscious of that, which is why not a single day goes by, probably not a single hour, when officials at Defra and Ministers are not engaged with individual businesses. Rightly, people want to import and export between parts of the United Kingdom. No one could be more fervent in their view on that than me, and I say that particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I will take back again the points that have been raised, as well as the points raised about the Lough Neagh eels and, obviously, jellied eels. I do not want to fall out with jellied eel consumers. I have a feeling that they have a very strong feeling about products such as Lough Neagh eels, so I take that very seriously indeed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about time limits on bridging arrangements. There is no time limit on how long bridging arrangements last, but it would not be in the interests of either party to extend the bridging arrangements longer than necessary.

On the point of Kumamoto rush and the category, the reason why we came forward with the category was that it was very loose ended and we wanted to signify the importance of that rush in terms of the UK-Japan agreement, so I will take that back.

I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, that I would be the first to say that we should keep the number of SIs to a direct purpose and try to co-ordinate them. Some of the provisions, including those on bridging arrangements, amending previous GI SIs, and others, were subject to negotiations concluding, so could not be raised earlier. I think that is a legitimate point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about implementation of the trade and co-operation agreement on a piecemeal basis and whether the agreement needs to be phased in over separate pieces of legislation. Our view is that, when an agreement requires changes to legislation in a number of sectors, it is normal for these changes to be made within the relevant sectoral legislation. This ensures that those affected by them know where to find the rules, but it does not mean that implementation is unco-ordinated. That is very important.

One point that I made a note of was when my noble friend Lord Empey asked what the differences were in the compendium. All we are seeking to do is to make all parts of the United Kingdom trade freely, well and prosperously.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the UK Organic Certifiers Group. We in Defra meet it fortnightly and, obviously, this instrument was discussed with the group. I can confirm that it agreed to the instrument.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about consultations with the devolved Administrations, which have been and continue to be very dynamic. They attend the UK Organic Certifiers Group, and we regularly discuss in that forum ways in which to take the UK’s world-class standards to a further level. I will take back and write about the minor drafting points; I do not have them to hand.

I had a number of points about Northern Ireland. GB applications can now be made to the EU scheme, so long as they are first protected in GB, while Northern Ireland applications can be made directly to the EU schemes as well as to the GB schemes.

My noble friend Lord Kirkhope asked about EU GIs. The UK schemes welcome new applications from around the world as long as they are first protected as a GI in their own country of origin—there is more on that, which I shall write about to my noble friend.

The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about wine and the VI-1. The Wine and Spirit Trade Association welcomed our plans to issue an easement on the need for VI-1 certificates to accompany imports of wines from the EU, as set out in agreements. Similarly, it also welcomed the introduction of simplified VI-1 certification arrangements for the EU and UK.

There was a question on electronics. I absolutely agree that we need to find ways in which to ensure that anything that we can do digitally, we do in that way.

I should say, on eels, that nothing in this instrument prevents the sale of eels in the UK. As I have said, I shall look into that.

The USA wine trade agreement has been carried over and is in force to cover trade between the US and the UK. Again on the question of VI-1 requirement, which my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Lord, Lord German, raised, we will be able to look critically at the laws that we have inherited through retained regulations to ensure that they remain fit for purpose. In due course, we will consider whether there is a case to revisit the requirement for VI-1 certification. The requirement was retained as indications were that the EU would require VI-1 forms to accompany UK exports. Furthermore, VI-1s are already established for imports of wines for other non-EU sources. We will look at that, and I shall come back to noble Lords with further details.

On the Northern Ireland protocol, NI producers will continue to apply to the EU schemes to have new products protected in Northern Ireland across the UK. To protect their new product names in GB, Northern Ireland producers will need to apply separately under the UK GI schemes, and I would of course encourage that.

I have to conclude soon. However, while on the subject of Northern Ireland, I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, that we have introduced an easement, as she knows. We are monitoring the situation and investigating all options to ensure smooth movements from GB to Northern Ireland.

I can take away many points from today’s debate. Frankly, in the time I have, I have not dealt with some of the technical points, but it may be better if I answer them in long form in letters. I am very conscious of some of the key points that have been made on some of the technical points on wines and other matters. However, I hope that this instrument commands support.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.