The UK’s hunger for a trade deal with the US – its biggest single trading partner – should not lead to the government compromising the UK’s high standards of food safety, welfare and environmental protection, Gardiner told the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF’s) Convention 2017 yesterday (Tuesday July 11).
While acknowledging the benefits of a trade deal with the US and other countries, Gardiner warned: “Shotgun deals – deals that are done quickly for political gain and political purposes – should not be allowed to trump our national interest.
“And the pun [on President Trump’s name] is wholly intended.”
Gardiner warned that the American Farm Bureau Federation had already confirmed it would seek the same food hygiene changes in any trade deal with the UK that had been pursued with the EU during the ill-fated Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks.
“Namely, an end to the restrictions on chlorine-dipped chickens, hormone-grown beef and genetically modified crops.”
‘End restrictions on chlorine-dipped chickens’
In effect, US agribusiness wanted to export its intensive farming techniques to the UK, warned the Labour MP for Brent North.
But he acknowledged UK exports to the US accounted for 20% of overseas sales and 40% of food and drink exports.
While a deal would probably drive down food prices for consumers, it would bring “dramatic change” in the products consumed in the UK, he said.
'Shotgun trade deals'
“Shotgun deals – deals that are done quickly for political gain and political purposes – should not be allowed to trump our national interest.”
- Barry Gardiner MP
What are the environmental protections – sanitary and phyto-sanitary protections – that are going to be lost, questioned Gardiner? How important are they to the public and to society to maintain?
A UK trade deal with the US could represent a win-win opportunity for both food and drink manufacturers to enter the American market and British consumers to benefit from a wider range of products at lower prices, he conceded.
“But it should not be achieved by compromising on food safety standards or on social or environmental standards.
‘Compromising food safety standards’
“Nor should trade deals be done in a shroud of secrecy [as many claimed was the case with TTIP] and away from parliamentary or public scrutiny.”
Unfettered US food and drink exports were not the only potential threat to UK food and drink manufacturers. Gardiner warned manufacturers to watch the list of countries that had expressed an interest in achieving a quick trade deal with the UK.
Many of these countries are active members of the Cairns Group in the World Trade Organisation. “The Cairns Group lobbies for wider market access for exports – including agricultural exports – and they press for an end to all subsidies.”
Meanwhile, Claire Perry, minister of state for climate change and industry, pledged to help build a closer working partnership between the food and drink sector and government. The Conservative MP for Bromsgrove urged the industry to make its needs known in the run up to Brexit and beyond.
“I want the industry to make us an offer we can’t refuse,” Perry said. “Think of me as your ally in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”
What is The Cairns Group?
“The Cairns Group is a coalition of 19 agricultural exporting countries which account for over 25% of the world’s agricultural exports. During the current WTO [World Trade Organisation] Doha Round of negotiations, the group has continued to push for the liberalisation of trade in agricultural exports, a cause that unites the group across language, cultural and geographic boundaries.
“Made up of developed and developing countries across five continents, the group is committed to achieving free and fair trade in agriculture that provides real and sustainable benefits for the developing world.”
Source: The Cairns Group