Verdict in on New Zealand free trade agreement

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The UK/New Zealand FTA would have little impact on food standards, TAC advised
The UK/New Zealand FTA would have little impact on food standards, TAC advised

Related tags Import

The UK’s free trade agreement (FTA) with New Zealand is unlikely to impact standards but could increase workload on agencies that ensure imports comply with those standards, according to the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC).

The TAC was requested by secretary of state for international trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan to advise on the FTA and whether it was consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in relation to health, animal welfare and environmental protections.

Following an open consultation, written submissions from organisation in the UK and New Zealand and evidence sessions with Government, industry and academia, it found that FTA did not restrict the UK’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) rights to regulate in the areas of animal or plant life or health, animal welfare, and environmental protections.

Enhancing WTO rights

Lorand Bartels, chair of the TAC said: “Indeed, it enhances the UK’s WTO rights to regulate imports to protect environmental standards, though not animal welfare standards, above and beyond those available as a WTO member. 

“The agreement also ensures that both the UK and New Zealand should not be able to gain an economic advantage by lowering their standards of protection.”

The UK would be able to ensure, via dispute settlement if necessary, that New Zealand will not fail to implement its domestic environmental laws if this gives its producers a competitive edge.

Joint working groups

“The agreement also establishes several joint working groups which, during the life of the agreement, will play an important role in maintaining and improving environmental and animal welfare standards,”​ Bartels added.

“We also found that, as a result of an increase in imports from New Zealand, there might be an additional workload for those agencies that ensure imports comply with agreed standards.”

The TAC’s report also covered a number of concerns raised surrounding environmental, agricultural and animal welfare issues but found that in most cases standards between the two countries were either comparable or would not directly impact imports to the UK. See box below for more details.

Key issues adressed in TAC report

Difference in terms of climate and approach to agricultural production

  • Insistence on the same regulations in both territories is neither appropriate or desirable, due to differences in topography, climate, risk of disease, environmental assets and human population, rather than by a desire to lower production costs.
  • New Zealand’s regulatory approach is also different – less prescriptive and detailed than in the UK, relying more on regulating actual practices rather than ensuring legal restrictions have been met.
  • However, there are sanctions for farmers and other agricultural practitioners if standards are broken.

Agricultural production practices

  • New Zealand does not permit the use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, and while hormonal growth promotants are not prohibited, they are no longer used.
  • The feed additive ractopamine, which is banned in the UK, is used in New Zealand pork production, but New Zealand only exports an ‘insignificant quantity’ of pork, mainly to its Pacific neighbours, and there is very little chance that it will export pork to the UK under the FTA.
  • The UK retains its WTO rights to regulate imports that pose a risk to its people, animals and environment.

Animal Welfare

  • New Zealand’s rules on battery cages for egg-laying hens will be identical to those in the UK from January 2023
  • Individual animals must be fit for transport, but whether this is the case is determined (on pain of sanction) by transporters and vets, rather than being pre-determined in legislation, as is the case in the UK.
  • Transport times of livestock to slaughterhouses is likely to be similar in both countries, with farmers seeking to minimise times due to the effect on animals and the cost of transport.
  • Should animal welfare become an issue, the FTA does not reduce the UK’s WTO rights to regulate imports of New Zealand livestock products if this is necessary to protect UK morals.

Pesticide products

  • The FTA does not prevent New Zealand from using pesticides that might harm New Zealand’s environment, unless New Zealand changes its regulations in order to give its producers a competitive advantage.
  • The FTA also goes further than WTO law, by requiring New Zealand to endeavour to ensure that its environmental laws provide for high levels of environmental protection. 

Climate change mitigation

  • Unlike the UK, New Zealand includes its farmers in its Emissions Trading Scheme, with ruminant methane emissions to be priced from 2025.
  • The carbon intensity of New Zealand production in beef, sheepmeat and dairy is significantly lower than in the UK, and transport of these products to the UK does not change the overall picture.
  • There is no climate change argument against importing New Zealand products. The FTA also enhances the UK’s WTO rights to adopt measures to protect the global atmosphere, including safe levels of greenhouse gases.

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