US set to ‘play hardball’ over food trade deal with UK

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

US trade negotiators will ‘play hardball’ over food deals, warned Sir Ivan
US trade negotiators will ‘play hardball’ over food deals, warned Sir Ivan

Related tags: International trade

US trade negotiators will “play hardball” when discussing food and farming products, as part of a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, warns Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK permanent representative to the EU.

No US-UK trade deal, for example, can conceivably get through Congress without a major agricultural chapter, covering tariffs, TRQs​ [tariff-rate quotas] and standards,” Rogers told the National Farmers Union's inaugural Henry Plumb Lecture last month.

“So far, the media has obsessed solely about chlorine-washed chicken and a bit about hormone-injected beef. But plenty more such issues will surface.

“The US, I assure you, plays hardball in trade negotiations under any president. The 'Washington effect' imposing its own standards extraterritorially is every bit as big as the Brussels effect.”

In fact, the UK could find itself caught in the crossfire between US negotiators – determined to win admission to the UK market for their food and farming products, some produced with technologies long considered unacceptable in Europe – and the EU, which wanted to defend its own standards.

Caught in the crossfire

“Divergence, say on SPS standards​ [sanitary and phytosanitary measures designed to protect against diseases, pests, or contaminants] from the EU norms to which we currently adhere an ambition of some key trading partners will, of course, create major issues for our own market access into the EU,”​ said the former top civil servant.

It was this realisation that lay behind rows over the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit. “If we choose or are obliged, in order to clinch trade deals with other players,to see our standards diverge from the EU's, then gains in one market could be matched or exceeded by losses in another.” 

‘Obliged in order to clinch trade deals’ 

And for agri-food exporters, however rapidly the UK manages to reshape its trading links, the EU will remain this nation's biggest export market for the foreseeable future, said Rogers.

He also cautioned against hopes of a speedy resolution to the Brexit talks, due, in part, to the difficulties of the EU's 27 countries agreeing a joint negotiation position. “I can assure you as an ex-insider that this process of agreeing their own negotiating ambitions for the deal with us will be long and messy.”​ Any deal agreed would also need to be ratified by national parliaments.

Evidence of the US's intention to play “play hardball”​ on trade terms emerged in October, when the country's agriculture secretary said he wanted the EU to ​lift trade barriers to US exports​. Speaking ahead of his first official visit to Europe, Sonny Perdue said: “We value our close relationship with our European partners, but there is work to be done to address the numerous trade barriers US exporters face in that market.”

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