As new concerns are raised over the UK’s trade deal with Japan, UK consumers have made their feelings loud and clear, demanding that the Government prioritises data protection standards as well as health and safety, environmental impact and regional inequalities when negotiating post-Brexit trade deals.
A new study from consumer group Which? quizzed participants on a range of issues that could be considered as part of trade deals, including their implications for consumer goods and services, with a particular focus on food, cars, toiletries and digital trade, insisting that neither lower prices nor a wider choice was a good enough reason to compromise.
Those surveyed were enthusiastic about the opportunities digital trade offered, but showed concern that freer data flows could weaken protection and expose people to data misuse and scams.
One participant said: “The starting point in negotiations should be what will have most benefit for citizens, not what will attract the biggest companies.”
They also expressed concern that when it came to food standards, allowing cheaper imports produced to lower standards into the country could exacerbate existing inequalities and lead to a situation where food produced to higher standards was only available to wealthier consumers.
Maintaining standards and therefore consumer protection was also a top priority when it came to cars, the UK’s biggest imported and exported product. Participants stressed there was an “obligation” to deliver high safety standards.
The importance of protecting the environment in trade deals was also a top priority. The Government has a legally-binding commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and participants were adamant trade deals should be aligned with this target.
Another important issue was the need to address regional inequalities and ensure trade deals are not England or London-centric.
Which? head of consumer protection Sue Davies said: “The UK has the opportunity to develop a trade policy that commands public confidence, if it listens to consumers every step of the way. This research gives a clear indication of the issues that really matter to ordinary people, so the Government should ensure these are reflected in its negotiating priorities.”
The findings come as privacy campaigners at the Open Rights Group have warned that the trade deal between the UK and Japan – hailed last month as historic by international trade minister Liz Truss – could result in an “existential threat” to British data privacy.
In a blogpost, ORG executive director Jim Killock states: “The UK-Japan trade agreement was supposed to be uncontroversial, negotiated in record time with minor changes to the existing treaty the UK inherited from the EU.
“However, it contains brand-new clauses which place the ‘free flow of data’ between the UK and Japan, and from there on to other trade partners, over and above data-protection rights.
“Worryingly, this will permit UK data to be transferred to the US, without it being kept under GDPR-style protections. In the US, there is no automatic right for you to know where the data is held, or by whom; you cannot prevent resale, reuse, or the data being put to new uses. There is no right to prevent your data from being used in ways that are discriminatory, or unfair.
“You cannot ask for your data to be deleted. If it is lost, then there is no legal barrier to a third party from obtaining it and using it. And there is no simple recourse to you if your data is breached or sold.”
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