International Trade

The change in international trading relationships has consequences for businesses and regulators.

Last updated January 2024

As Scotland's food safety regulator, it is our duty to work with partners across the UK to help ensure that the food sold in Scotland and the UK is safe. As such, whilst international trade is a function reserved to the UK Government, there is an exemption under The Scotland Act 1998 in relation to food and feed controls for the purposes of protecting public health. 

In other words, our role applies to food and feed imports too. This means that we have an interest in any new trade agreements that the UK might wish to enter into where food is included.


Trade agreements

As the UK’s food safety authorities with a statutory duty to protect food and feed safety and consumers’ interests in relation to food, FSS and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are commissioned by the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) to contribute to a government report (required under Section 42(2) of the 2020 Agriculture Act). This is part of the parliamentary scrutiny process for Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). 

In preparing the ‘Section 42’ report the Agriculture Act 2020 requires the Secretary of State to request advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), except in relation to matters concerning human life or health, which includes food safety. As the TAC remit excludes food safety standards, FSS and the FSA are specifically asked to produce joint advice on whether, or to what extent, the measures in FTAs are consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection for human health for the areas within our remits. This is in line with section 42(4) of the Act, which makes provision for advice to be sought from any person considered to be independent and to have relevant expertise in preparing the report.

As agreed with DBT, the joint FSS/FSA advice is annexed to the UK Government’s Section 42 report when it is laid in parliament, alongside the TAC advice. 

Read FSS and the FSA's joint advice on: 


Codex

Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC)

The CAC was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice. The UK is an active member of Codex.

Agreed standards are voluntary and implementation by member countries is therefore not automatic. However, Codex standards are recognised as reference texts for trade disputes brought before a World Trade Organization (WTO) Disputes Panel.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead UK Government Department for Codex.  We liaise with Food Standards Agency as appropriate on matters raised in Codex Committees dealing dealing with food hygiene, food additives, methods analysis and sampling, food contaminants and imports import and export certification systems. 

We will post any relevant codex consultation documents on our New and emerging policy pages.

For more information about Codex, refer to Defra’s information on the Codex standards.


Windsor Framework - Northern Ireland

The UK Government has agreed new trading arrangements with the EU for businesses selling certain retail products, including food, onto the retail market in Northern Ireland. 

Further detail on what is known as the Retail Movement Scheme (ReMoS) can be found on the UK Government website - The Windsor Framework - further detail and publications - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)


Annual reporting on food standards

We, alongside the FSA, are committed to work collaboratively to jointly produce an annual data- and evidence-led report on the state of UK food safety and standards. This will be laid before the UK and devolved parliaments and assemblies, as well as any supplementary ad hoc reports that may be needed on the impact of new or prospective UK trade agreements on food safety and standards from a consumer perspective (as referenced in the above ‘Trade agreements’ section).

Our inaugural joint annual report Our Food 2021: An annual review of food standards across the UK came after the UK food system had faced two years of major upheaval following the UK’s departure from the EU, the significant effects of  the COVID-19 pandemic, and the disruption caused by the war in Ukraine. Despite these significant pressures, the conclusion reached was that food standards in the UK had largely been maintained. However, while there was no evidence of a drop in standards, the report warned of significant challenges ahead. Two of the main concerns identified were:

  • the fall in the level of local authority inspections of food businesses, hampered by resourcing pressure, despite some progress in getting inspections back on track
  • the delay in establishing full UK imports controls for high-risk food and feed from the EU, which continued to reduce our ability to stop unsafe food entering the UK market

Both these concerns remain and are highlighted again in our second joint annual report Our Food 2022. The report draws on a range of evidence including:

  • local authority data
  • official government statistics
  • compliance returns from import checks
  • FSS and FSA’s own research and surveillance activity

FSS and FSA’s research and surveillance activity examines:

  • the impact of the economic environment on consumer choice and behaviours
  • how the UK food system is influenced by international factors and at the safety of imported foods
  • the current landscape of business compliance
  • available evidence on the safety and authenticity of our food itself

In summary, the evidence in the latest report suggests that, overall, food safety standards remained stable in 2022 but the same challenges apply with the added concern of official veterinarian resourcing.

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