Consumers vs. Trade Barriers

04 Dec 2019 Consumers vs. Trade Barriers image

Waitrose supermarkets in the United Kingdom have announced that they will only sell UK farmed lamb as it is important to ‘invest in British agriculture’. 

Waitrose is now phasing out New Zealand lamb, which was stocked during the UK’s winter months when UK lamb was not available.  Tor Harris, Waitrose’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, Health and Agriculture, is quoted in The Telegraph as saying: ‘Waitrose has a long history of supporting and sourcing from local producers.  The decision to commit to 100% British lamb all year is a continuation of that commitment and means that we can extend opportunity to our existing British lamb farmers while also potentially bringing new local producers into our supply chain as we continue to invest in British agriculture’.

Waitrose’s move has been welcomed by the National Farmers' Union, noting that it will provide a welcome boost for the UK sheep sector at a time when the UK’s future trading relationship is uncertain.

But that is precisely the point.  Trade is a two-way deal, and Brexit is a trade crisis for the UK.  If one party closes down that two-way trade, there is often a ripple effect where more trade options get closed down.  As the UK enters into a brave new world without the European Union, the UK will need to develop new, two-way trading relationships.  But if their supermarkets closedown imports from around the world, the world will respond.

We support offering consumers locally grown produce, but we also support giving consumers choice and not dictating to them what they can buy.  For a number of years, we campaigned for country of origin labelling to become mandatory in New Zealand.  Country of origin labelling will finally be introduced in 2020, after yet another round of consultation.  This will mean that consumers will be able to identify where produce was grown and make a choice about if they buy it. 

Technological developments will take this labelling development further so that consumers will also be able to access information about how the produce was grown and who grew it. 

The goal is fully-informed consumers making knowledgeable purchase choices.  But this outcome will be taken away from consumers if supermarkets decide to make the choice for them and not provide an alternative.  We cannot support that. 

The Waitrose decision is short-sighted for at least two reasons.  First, it will not promote trade at a time when the UK needs new trading arrangements and second, it denies UK consumers choice. 

In today’s world, we strive to bring the best possible produce to market and we want consumers to make informed choices on what they buy.  The Waitrose decision runs against this and is likely to have the opposite effect on the UK’s economic prosperity. 

Waitrose should be embracing diversity and free trade and giving the UK consumer choice.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive