Ordinary people must be winners from international trade deals or they will fail
One of East Anglia's top EuroMPs has warned trade negotiators in Brussels and Britain that they must engage with ordinary people and address consumer concerns if they are to gain public support for new international trade deals and the Single Market.
Conservative MEP Vicky Ford, chairman of the European Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, told a major conference that too much attention had been paid to an elite group of consumers.
And she stressed that the Single Market was not just a trading system but "the practical co-operation that lies behind each consumer transaction."
She said: "We will not regain support for trade if we only focus on the small minority of consumers who shop online across borders, the handful who care about cross-border digital downloads or the elite who follow the debate on geo-blocking.
"The vast majority of European consumers consume in their local area. We need to show how it is because of the Single Market that retailers can offer such choice and diversity and prices at a local level too. The recent rows about Marmite and Cookie Dough ice cream may have felt quite amusing but remind us of the serious issue that where trade relationships between countries are unstable this can lead to real price hikes.
"Unless we all, in the UK and across Europe, re-grasp the conversation with ordinary consumers on the benefits of trade for them, we will lose their confidence not only for international trade deals but also in the Single Market as a whole."
Reminding the audience that the core benefits of free trade for consumers is that it brings them greater choice, greater diversity and lower prices, she went on to warn that "Every time politicians in Brussels ban a product, limit a service or add extra costs into the supply chain we undermine that core message" and urged the 500 plus audience of stakeholders and policy makers "not to reduce choice or add costs unless we are absolutely convinced that this is what consumers want"
Mrs Ford pointed out that the Single Market delivered benefits beyond tariff-free trade. These include:
* the Rapex alert programme, which enables faulty or dangerous toys or cars to be recalled quickly throughout Europe;
* the single payments area system which helps small businesses trade easily across 34 European countries;
* the single approval system allowing new products to come to market faster, such as a new asthma inhaler which Mrs Ford saw in production in Hertfordshire last month.
Mrs Ford's speech to the European Consumer Summit in Brussels comes as the EU-Canada trade deal is in doubt after being rejected by the Wallonian regional parliament in Belgium.
She concluded: "In my lifetime I have seen a world that has worked to tear down barriers to trade, but now increasingly I see that we risk tipping into a new era fuelled by protectionism. Trade deals, including a new EU/UK relationship must work for all consumers not just the elite few who shop across borders."
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Economic Stability must come first. Without a strong economy we can not deliver a strong society. I work with businesses and consumers to keep Britain open for business, cutting red tape, boosting trade opportunities and helping to deliver jobs and growth for all.
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