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Just Trade Newsletter

Trade Secretary Liz Truss was warned that Down Under deals are damaging

Liz Truss was warned in 2020 that post-Brexit trade pacts with Australia and New Zealand would shrink the UK's farming and food sectors, according to Politico.

Data prepared by the Department for International Trade (DIT) detailed the relative losses and gains expected for each part of the British economy before Truss, then the UK government's trade secretary and now a possible Prime Minister, went ahead with pacts that farmers have suffered from.

The UK's farming lobby argued against the deals, while Truss held them up as proof that Britain was thriving outside the European Union. Campaigners now want greater scrutiny of trade deals.

"It's infuriating the government ploughed on as ministers knew British agriculture was likely to be the most impacted sector, putting at risk hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs," said Minette Batters, president of lobby group the National Farmer's Union. In response, the DIT said in a statement that it does "not sign trade deals which do not work for UK producers and businesses."

The data was obtained through a Freedom of Information request lodged by former Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry and shared with Politico, which has separately studied the data. It shows that officials advised Truss an Australia deal would spark a 3.44 percent shift in employment away from the semi-processed foods sector over 15 years.

The DIT projected a 0.49 percent drop in the value of farming to the UK economy under the Australia deal. The New Zealand pact would cause a 2.97 percent hit to its economic value. The New Zealand pact would shift agriculture, forestry and fishing employment away from the UK and devalue the sector by 0.85 percent. Finally agriculture, forestry and fishing were also set to take a hit, the analysis showed. The department projected a 0.69 percent long-term shift percent dip to the sector's value over the same span.

Prime Minister in waiting (according to polls) Liz Truss laid the groundwork for the deals with Australia and New Zealand after being appointed trade secretary by PM Boris Johnson in July 2019. She oversaw negotiations until her appointment as foreign secretary in September 2021. Her successor Anne-Marie Trevelyan sealed the pact with New Zealand in early 2022, although negotiations happened largely on Truss' watch, says the Politio report.


Cabinet Office caught napping by referendum - refused to test IT systems for NI border

Britain's civil servants didn't test a single customs clearance system for the Northern Irish border before the Referendum vote, believing the vote was a foregone conclusion and they could get away with doing nothing, according to one system integrator who advised the Cabinet Office. As a result, Britain was left unprepared for life outside the EU.

Blockchain expert and systems integrator Andrew Bird was invited to address the UK Cabinet Office on the feasibility of building a customs system, should it be needed, to account for border crossings with European Union yet to take place and HM Revenue and Custom's Border Force was considering contingency plans and Bird's competence tender.

Bird had approached his local MP, Mark Harper, who represents the Forest of Dean. Harper thought Bird's previous record on large scale proposals in the US and Qatar, involving Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags, Bluetooth and Blockchain, sounded plausible. Bird had outlined how huge databases of information could be attached to each entity (be it a cow, a chicken or a container) via attachable chips, and the full history of information would travel with them. In systems that Bird has built, scanners could then be used to track the movements of the item and report that information back to a ledger, the blockchain, which creates an omniscient account of events.

Creating such a system for a new customs border between the two Irelands would be a challenge, but it was nothing that hadn't been achieved before, Bird told Just Trade.

The entire history of a cow, for example, could be documented automatically. Everything from the fields it grazed in to its Phyto-sanitary history is recorded. Its diet and drug treatment are all meticulously detailed and the information transferred between nodes of a cloud computing complex as its geo-location shifts. Moving this information between customs systems would not be an insurmountable challenge, Bird told the committee. However, this all fell on deaf ears because the chair of the committee who, Bird said, described herself in the meeting as The High Priestess of Everything Clever (HPEC). Without seeing Bird's system, the HPEC declared: "We tested all that. I don't know what happened, but it was conclusive. We don't need it."

That encounter ended Bird's involvement. However, a subsequent Freedom of Information request would later reveal that the HPEC and HMRC had not tested a single system in preparation for solving the Northern Ireland border problem. This was because they hadn't expected the referendum outcome and had made no contingency plans.

"Nobody believed Brexit would happen, so they did nothing to prepare," said Bird, "we are still fumbling our way through now. It's like a rudderless ship."


East London food business wins Queen's Award for Enterprise

East London based food company Wanis has been honoured with a Queen's Award for Enterprise for International Trade. It has managed to continue growing even through today's harsh trading climate. Wanis was recognised for its 'Enterprise in International Trade' having enjoyed five years of uninterrupted year-on-year growth in very tough conditions. It was also commended for its commitment to equality and diversity and a strong record of charitable and philanthropic work locally, nationally and internationally.

Wanis owns several world food brands in addition to its wholesale, import and export operations and is one of only 226 organisations to be celebrated by receiving the highly prestigious gong. The food group was founded in 1964 by Tulsidas Wadhwani (aka Mr Wani) but now employs 165 people. He began importing hard-to-find foods from 'back home' but the business now has an annual turnover of over £100 million. It distributes UK-wide to supermarkets, wholesalers, independent retailers and Online stores, as well as restaurants, takeaways and caterers of all sizes. Wanis exports to over 30 countries across six continents and exclusively represents many heritage brands in the UK.

"We are absolutely thrilled to receive this award," said Commercial Director George Phillips, "particularly as we have significant trade partnerships with many Commonwealth countries. We worked hard during the pandemic to keep the shelves of UK retailers full, so this accolade means a lot to the whole team."

Now in its 56th year, the Queen's Award for Enterprise are the most prestigious business awards in the country, with winning businesses able to use the esteemed Queen's Awards emblem for the next five years.

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