Supporting UK farmers, food standards and animal welfare
I am rightly proud of this country’s farmers and of our high food standards and animal welfare measures, so took the decision to vote alongside the Government against new clauses one and two as the Agriculture Bill itself does not allow for food standards in the UK to be lowered, and I felt these clauses would undermine future trade deals without aiding farmers, animal welfare or indeed UK food standards. I further felt that this bill was, and should remain, a domestic agriculture bill – amending such a bill so that it included legislation on international trade being inconsistent with its purpose.
In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. p.57 Conservative Manifesto
Our manifesto commitment is further clear that that there will be no trade deal, with any country, that will result in changes to our domestic standards.
All food coming into this country is required to meet the UK's import standards. At the end of the transition period the Withdrawal Act will convert all EU standards into domestic law. These include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in both domestic and imported products. Nothing apart from potable water may be used to clean chicken carcasses.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency, an independent agency that regulates food standards, will continue to provide independent advice to ensure that all food imports comply with those high safety standards. These are a matter for the UK and will not form part of any trade agreement.
The UK already imports food from countries such as Canada, South Africa and Japan through preferences in existing free trade agreements – none of these agreements require those countries to follow domestic UK production standards. That does not mean, however, that the food we import falls below the high standards of food safety that we require in this country.
To provide some background - under existing WTO rules, we can, and we will, reject any imported food that doesn’t comply with our own sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards and measures to protect human, animal or plant life/health. However, under those same WTO rules, although we can apply standards to the quality and health of the product, we cannot dictate or regulate on another country’s production methods – as long as the product itself meets our SPS standards. By the same token, we will not allow other countries to alter our domestic standards through any trade deals we might agree.
Trade agreements and UK farming
Nowhere else in the world do existing trade agreements include a requirement for partner countries to produce to another country’s domestic regulations and standards – this would simply mean trade agreements being resisted. Insisting on UK domestic regulations being applied to the production of food, and not just on the SPS standards of what we allow to be imported, would be an unprecedented barrier to trade that doesn’t currently exist. Importantly imposing such a demand would damage developing nations where access to UK markets is key to lifting millions out of extreme poverty – which raises grave concerns for me.
Further I have received assurances that the Government will agree to UK FTAs that are fair and reciprocal. British farmers will not face unbalanced competition. The National Farmer’s Unions across the UK will be involved through the Government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group and sector specific expert trade advisory groups, so ensuring the views of the industry are represented. This will give them a voice at the highest level of our trade negotiations.
Government analysis shows that the agri-food sector itself will benefit from a comprehensive trade agreement. For example, an agreement with the US could remove tariffs of up to 26% on British beef, a market only recently opened, and which is estimated to be worth £66m to UK farmers over the next 5 years. The agreement could do the same for British lamb. The US are the second largest importers of lamb in the world, such that even a 3% market share could boost annual UK exports by £18m. That is why, the CEO of the National Sheep Association says a USFTA “would benefit sheep farmers in all parts of Great Britain.”
I support the Government’s determination to negotiate positive agreements for all farmers, wherever they are in the UK, and am clear that in doing so animal welfare and food standards must not be undermined. This is a position that I share with the Government, and will continue to support them in achieving.