Thank you for contacting me about trade deals, farm animal welfare and food standards.
This Government is committed to upholding our high environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards now that we have left the European Union. We will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure any future trade deals live up to the values of farmers and consumers across the UK.
When we leave the EU, we will maintain the same import standards. No UK import standards will be diminished as part of a free trade agreement (FTA). We will also ensure that our own high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards are not undermined by ensuring in any future agreement that British farmers are always able to compete.
The EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions onto the UK statute book. This includes current import requirements, which for example ban the use of artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products and stipulate that no products besides potable water are approved to decontaminate poultry carcases.
On the proposal for establishing a Food Standards Commission, the UK’s food standards for both domestic production and imports are overseen by the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. These are independent agencies and provide advice to the UK and Scottish governments. They will continue to do so in order to ensure that all food imports comply with the UK’s high safety standards.
It is important to note that the UK currently operates trade on the grounds of adherence to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements only. We do not require countries we trade with to follow UK domestic regulation on how food is produced, including in preferential trade agreements like CETA with Canada.
Nowhere else around the world do existing trade agreements include a requirement for partner countries to produce to another country’s domestic regulations and standards. 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. It would also damage developing nations where access to UK markets is key to lifting millions out of extreme poverty.
The Government has committed to a serious and rapid examination of what could be done through labelling in the UK market to promote high standards and high welfare goods. Any scheme could not be devised until we have competed the transition period and would need to recognise World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.
We will always ensure that UK FTAs are fair and reciprocal. British farmers will not face unbalanced competition. We will be involving the National Farmer’s Unions across the UK through the Government’s Strategic Trade Advisory Group and our sector specific expert trade advisory groups to ensure the views of the industry are represented. This means that they have a voice at the highest level of our trade negotiations.
Our analysis shows that the agri-food sector will benefit from a comprehensive trade agreement. An agreement will also benefit all parts of the UK, with Scotland and the Midlands set to benefit the most.
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. It could do the same for lamb. It is not well understood that the US are the second largest importers of lamb in the world and 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.”
Trade also improves farming resilience. So, our trade is vital for carcass balancing, the ability to sell cuts not wanted in the UK – and to deal with demand shocks and seasonal availability. Trade agreements will help and enhance UK farmers’ access to new markets, boost productivity and generate valuable new opportunities.
It is worth noting that the Trade Bill before the House is a continuity Bill. It cannot be used to implement an agreement with a country that did not have a trade agreement with the EU before exit day, such as the USA. It is about providing continuity for businesses so they can continue trading under existing arrangements.
We are determined to negotiate positive agreements for all farmers, wherever they are in the UK.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP