Thank you for contacting me about the Agriculture Bill, food standards and future trade deals.
I fully recognise the importance the public attach to the UK’s high standards of food production, and the unique selling point it provides for our farmers, whose high-quality produce is in demand around the world.
I know that in trade negotiations the Government will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards, which is why I believe Amendment 93 made to the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords to be an unnecessary potential source of duplication and confusion. I would also like to assure you that the Government will not compromise on matters relating to the health and wellbeing of our children during trade negotiations.
Without exception, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. These standards have been built up over many years and have the trust of the public and the world. I know the Government will not adjust those standards to secure trade deals. The standards will be based on science and decided by the UK alone.
I want to see a vibrant and resilient farming sector in the UK, and the UK’s newfound status as an independent trading nation has the potential to bring huge benefits to our farming industry, including our family-run farms. Indeed, new free trade agreements could lead to gains for UK agriculture. For example, analysis by the Department for International Trade shows that an agreement with the US would strengthen UK farmers’ incomes.
I am pleased that the Government is engaging with the agricultural sector, including the National Farmers Union, as part of its trade discussions. The government has established the Trade and Agriculture Commission as well as trade advisory groups, ensuring that British farmers, businesses, and consumers will play a central role in the nation’s trade policy. It is encouraging that Ministers share my determination to ensure our future trade agreements will deliver benefits for our brilliant farmers and food producers.
Regarding amendments made to the Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords relating to the composition and status of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, I know my ministerial colleagues are always considering how best to strengthen the machinery of government to ensure effective decision-making and scrutiny.
Turning to other amendments to the Agriculture Bill, the Government opposed new clauses one and two. 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 requires those countries to follow domestic UK production standards.
The amendments would have put up new trade barriers and prevented the Government from being able to agree fair and mutually beneficial trade deals. Indeed, forcing all our trading partners to produce to UK domestic standards would only result in fewer export opportunities for our own farmers. In addition, the amendments, if implemented, would have caused real challenges for developing countries and our Commonwealth partners, as for them it would be particularly difficult to align with UK domestic production standards.
Amendments 12 and 16
These amendments would make it a requirement for imports of food and agriculture goods to meet domestic standards.
The Government believes that these amendments risk adverse effects as it would make it very difficult to secure any new trade deals, and conditions are not in place for imports under agreements negotiated during our membership of the EU.
The Government has also made a commitment in its manifesto not to compromise on the UK’s high standards in all trade negotiations.
Ministers say that food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements as the EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions, including existing import requirements, onto the UK statute book. These import standards include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and set out that no products, other than potable water, are approved to decontaminate poultry carcasses. Any changes to existing food safety legislation would require new legislation to be brought before Parliament.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP