The huge rise in gas prices blighting household finances looks to be long-lived, as does high inflation, which predates Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but will have further aggravated cost of living pressures, particularly in relation to food prices. I have long been concerned with the UK’s energy strategy. Quite simply we need more capacity and more security with a good dollop of forward-thinking.

In January, myself and Conservative colleagues signed a letter calling for the Government to act quickly in slashing taxes on energy bills as they ballooned, and whilst energy providers went bust. In February, Ofgem announced the average household dual fuel bill would increase by £ 693 to £ 1,971 in April when the energy price cap is reset.

That feels like a long time ago. Since then, the outbreak of war in Ukraine has sent commodity prices soaring, prompting the Bank of England to raise the base rate to 0.75 percent in order to tackle possible double-digit inflation – unheard of in this century. I am, however, unconvinced that the blunt interest rate lever is the right one against this commodity scarcity-led inflation.

In recent decades, western governments and their central banks have been able to pull this lever the other way to free up spending and give the economy a boost, but this is a fiscal crisis requiring braver and more dynamic thinking.

We need to start by cutting taxes and tariffs on essential goods and services for British households. We also need to supercharge our efforts in boosting bilateral trade, not only to drive up our exports and give the economy a dose of adrenalin, but crucially to beat inflation by driving down prices on imported goods.

Take a staple, like tomatoes. Brits consume 500,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year, about a fifth are home-grown, the rest are imported from the Netherlands, Spain, and Morocco. All three have big agricultural sectors with major ports providing easy access to the UK, however one is at a distinct disadvantage due to not being in the EU.

Once season restricted Tariff-rate quotas of 47,500 tonnes have been used within the UK-Morocco continuation agreement, a 3.5 percent tariff applies to imports of Moroccan tomatoes to the UK. Equivalent produce of any volume and at any time of year from the EU is tariff-free. And Morocco is one of the more fortunate non-EU countries due to its ‘association agreement’ through which it benefits from a deduction to the EU’s external tariff, which the UK has currently rolled over.

Any free trade agreement worth its salt should consist of no tariffs at all particularly on out of season agricultural products. That is not a view shared in Brussels. Mind you, it’s better than being completely out in the cold. Non-EU countries without any form of agreement trying to import their tomatoes into the UK and EU markets face a margin-wiping 8 percent tariff.

I come at this argument as a greengrocer’s son. Back in the day Moroccan products were commonplace on the High Street; protectionist measures implemented by the EU put paid to that. Morocco is a good window into where Britain’s trade ambitions should be going, a rapidly developing economy – one of the three fastest-growing in Africa alongside Kenya and Ghana – with a stable political climate in close proximity to the UK, but lacking a genuine free trade agreement.

The story here is that London and Rabat agreed to re-adopt Brussels’ association agreement in 2019, which is why UK and EU tariffs are the same. I credit the Government for simplifying the deal where it could – this is an EU agreement, lest we forget. In December, the Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan upgraded the arrangement, setting up a joint Council with the Moroccan Government and adding in clauses on cybersecurity and education to support the uptake of English in the former French and Spanish protectorate.

The program for a deeper bilateral trading partnership is already in place, we just need to accelerate it. And Morocco is one just country among many facing significant trade barriers to the UK market. Similarly, Kenya, which has bilateral trade amounting to £ 1.1bn with the UK, is also stuck in an association agreement. Ghana is only one notch higher at ‘partnership’ level.

On March 9, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which I sit on, published a report stating the Department for International Trade “faces significant challenges in meeting its target for 80 percent of UK trade to be covered by FTAs” by the end of this year, the Government’s laudable objective. Present coverage stands at 64 percent.

I agree with the report’s recommendations, progress could have been better, but there are reasons for optimism. In 2021 DIT secured a brand new deal with Australia, having launched negotiations the previous year. A New Zealand deal is close to implementation. Whilst there have been positive tariff reductions on aspects of UK-US trade and positive State level agreements, a more fulsome US deal remains elusive. The slow start is understandable; Britain’s previous trade deal was to join what is now the EU in 1973, almost half a century ago. Now we’ve settled in, we just need to crack on with the remaining 36 percent.

The EU meanwhile, does not have FTAs ​​with the United States, Australia or New Zealand. Negotiations began in earnest with the United States under the Obama administration, but the Americans backed away once Britain said it was leaving the bloc.

America has its own industries it likes to protect, that negotiation will take some time. In the meantime, we need to pick the lower hanging fruit elsewhere and ensure ordinary Brits do not pay more than is necessary for a range of basic products. We have in our hands the means to minimise food price inflation.

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