A potential trade deal between the UK and the United States could see a split in the British government over environmental and food safety standards.
The UK’s International Trade Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, is said to favor opening the British market to U.S. farm products such as chlorine-washed poultry once the UK exits the European Union in 2019. But other Cabinet member such as Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, are said to be concerned about protecting the U.K. farming industry from foreign imports and products with “lower health and safety standards.”
The Daily Telegraph reports that a source close to Dr. Fox said he [Fox] believed that “Americans have been eating it [chlorine-washed chicken] perfectly safely for years” and that any “meaningful” trade deal with the US would have to include agriculture.” The import of poultry products from the U.S. has been banned for many years because of the chlorine wash treatment. Once the UK exits the EU it will be in a position to set its own food import rules.
The UK trade secretary is in the U.S. this week (July 24-25) to open discussions on a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States. In the interview with the Daily Telegraph, he acknowledged that “agriculture’s always a very difficult issue,” it will be a difficult discussion . . . but we’ve got great support from the United States and the administration as well as Congress to help push the agenda forward.”
The discussions this week are expected to cover a U.S. proposal to establish a joint agricultural science committee that could sign off on the safety standards of goods traded between the two countries. Many UK consumers are resistant to imports of U.S. foods which they worry will be less well regarded once Britain implements its own food safety laws post-Brexit with the main safety concern focusing on farm goods such as GMO crops, hormone-treated beef and chlorine-rinsed poultry.
A report by London-based international think-tank, the Legatum Institute, states that a U.S.-UK agreement “can be used to agree appropriate, proportionate standards for such agricultural products, based on sound scientific evidence,” and that an agreement “should seek to eliminate unnecessary SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) measures and import controls that act as barriers to trade.”
The UK is not allowed to enter into formal discussions on any trade deal until it has left the EU, but informal discussions can take place. Dr. Fox also will visit Mexico as part of the North American visit.
Elsewhere, Mr. Michael Gove warned British farmers that environmental protection will be top of the list for subsidy payments once the UK exits the European Union. In a long-awaited speech which was delivered at a WWF-UK meeting, Mr. Gove described himself as an environmentalist and stated that future farm subsidies must benefit the environment. He pledged to continue to support British farmers but that “support can only be argued for … if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.”
Sources: Daily Telegraph; AgraFacts; Politico; Legatum Institute