Consumers get chance to have their say on global trade talks as Which? launches first-ever UK citizens’ dialogues on trade

Which? is today launching the National Trade Conversation to establish consumers’ priorities and dealbreakers in trade deals, to inform policymakers as the UK continues international trade negotiations.

The first event of its kind in the UK, the National Trade Conversation – a series of in-depth citizens’ dialogues – involves almost 100 people from across the country.

For the first time in nearly half a century, the UK government is negotiating its own trade deals. These deals will have an impact on consumers’ pockets, what they see on shelves, the choices they are able to make and how their data is used, it is therefore vital that their views are used to carve out a new trade policy.

Which? will use the discussions to build on its existing insight into what people think is most important for trade deals to deliver with each priority country, making recommendations to the government on what consumers see as the main opportunities, as well as their red lines for the UK’s negotiators.

The final report, to be published this Autumn, will be presented to the Department for International Trade, which has been a member of Which?’s advisory group on the research. Which? wants these citizens’ deliberations to help inform trade negotiations and ensure consumers’ views are a priority in discussions.

Today, the first panel will meet, via video conference, with consumers from Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, and the surrounding area. Participants come from all walks of life and have been carefully chosen to represent a cross-section of the population and a range of political views, including remain and leave voters, as well as those who did not vote in the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

In a short address, Greg Hands MP, Minister of State for Trade Policy at the Department for International Trade will welcome participants to their first meeting and highlight why this is an important piece of research for the Department for International Trade.

The minister will acknowledge that while trade negotiations have begun with all four partner countries, he is keen to hear directly from people, and will reassure participants “it is not too late to feed in your views as to what you’d like to see covered in those trade agreements”.

The research, run in partnership with deliberative research experts, Hopkins Van Mil, will take place over the next six weeks. Which? will also speak with consumers drawn from around Belfast, Cardiff, Dundee and Swindon. In each case, participants will meet five times and discussions will focus on:

  • What the UK trades, why the UK trades, how trade deals are made and their impact on consumers and society more widely

  • What is in play for future trade deals with priority countries, including the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand

  • Key sectors and the impact trade deals could have on food, other consumer products and digital trade

  • What people see as the priorities for the government to include in trade talks

Many influential organisations will contribute to the National Trade Conversation to help shape and inform views including the Confederation of British Industry, the British Retail Consortium, Fairtrade Foundation, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the International Chamber of Commerce and the National Farmers’ Union.

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection and Food Policy at Which?, said: 

“For the first time in nearly 50 years, the UK is developing its own trade policy and negotiating new deals that could have far-reaching implications for the UK consumers, with potential benefits as well as risks. For these deals to be deemed a success they must have public support and confidence.

“Which? is launching this project, at this critical time, to help establish consumers’ priorities on key trade issues, and to ensure their voices are taken into account in the government’s approach to trade negotiations.”

Notes to editor

  • The National Trade Conversation research project runs in conjunction with the deliberative research experts Hopkins Van Mil. In total, 90 members of the public will take part in the Conversation, with 5 citizens’ dialogues of 18 people in each.

  • Each dialogue will meet for a total of 10 hours, split over five 2-hour workshops. These are being conducted via Zoom given it is not currently possible to conduct research of this size face to face. Whilst we are conducting the research digitally, we are recruiting participants for each workshop from a specific area to enable us to understand views from distinct locations across the UK.

  • The five locations are Belfast, Cardiff, Dundee, Newcastle and Swindon. Participants for each event are being invited to take part by a specialist research recruiter and are being recruited from both urban and rural areas around the workshop location.

  • Participants are also being recruited to ensure they reflect the demographics of the area in line with the 2011 Census, as well as reflecting the voting patterns of the area in the 2016 EU referendum.


Press Release