Consumers left in the dark on what trade deals will mean for them, Which? warns

More than two-thirds of UK consumers feel left in the dark about new trade deals amid public concern for the government to take into account key consumer issues, such as food, data protection and environmental standards, new Which? research reveals. 

Which? surveyed over 3,000 UK adults to find out how the public feels about post-Brexit trade negotiations and what consumers want to see prioritised in future trade deals.

The consumer champion’s research found that the public felt the government was not providing enough information on trade negotiations and some were concerned their interests were not being represented in trade deals.

Which?’s survey revealed that over two-thirds of respondents (67%) felt the public receives too little information from the government around trade deals – with only 7 per cent saying they knew that the UK had a final deal agreed with Japan.

A quarter (27%) of UK consumers said they felt the government was “not at all open” about the impact new trade deals will have. These figures were highest in Northern Ireland with over half of Northern Irish (54%) consumers saying the UK government was not at all open about the impact of trade deals on their nation.

There was also low confidence that the specific needs of devolved nations would be met. Three in five (59%) Northern Irish consumers, a third (32%) of Welsh consumers and two in five (41%) Scottish consumers reported feeling “not at all confident” that trade deals made by the UK government reflect the specific needs of their nation.

Which? has previously called for a consumer chapter in trade deals – which would cover key consumer priorities, such as maintaining food, data, environmental and online shopping protections.

The consumer champion’s survey showed strong public support for this – with eight in 10 (81%) of respondents agreeing there should be a section within trade deals supporting consumer interests.

Nearly two thirds of consumers (63%) thought it was very important not to reduce data and digital protections in trade deals and nine in 10 consumers (87%) felt all food imported should align with current UK domestic food standards.

Four in five consumers (80%) agreed that the UK government’s trade policy should promote high environmental standards and not endorse signing deals that remove existing environmental protections.

Trade deals can offer exciting new opportunities for the government to deliver and improve on the issues people care about. However, consumers were not confident in the government’s ability to deliver on these priorities.

More than half (59%) were not confident the government would prioritise the environment in future negotiations – with a quarter (23%) of consumers saying they were “not at all” confident.

The findings demonstrate the need for clearer communication from the government about how trade deals are negotiated and what these agreements will mean for people in the UK. The government should include a consumer chapter in future trade deals which provides a clear breakdown of how they will benefit the public.

Which?’s National Trade Conversation, a series of dialogues involving people from across the UK last year, showed how engaged the public can be on trade issues if time is taken to engage them and seek their views. While hubs have been set up to engage businesses around the country on trade and trade deals, there is seemingly no equivalent dedicated resource for consumers.

Which? believes the government must be more engaged with consumers – including with consumers in devolved nations to understand their specific needs better – and deliver on the key issues they care about.

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

“The success of future agreements will be judged on what they deliver for ordinary people in their everyday lives, not just the export opportunities they provide.

“Our research shows that consumers feel they have been left in the dark about what trade deals will mean for them.

“The government must take this opportunity to communicate transparently and openly with the public about trade negotiations and push for a consumer chapter to be included in future deals which reflects the issues that are most important to consumers.”

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Notes to editors 

Yonder, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 3,263 UK adults online between 23rd and 24th June  2021. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK population by age, gender, region,  social grade, tenure and work status. The number of respondents from the devolved nations was boosted to ensure a large (500+) sample for each.

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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