Agriculture Bill - Upholding Food Safety and Animal Welfare

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 British farmers are always able to compete.

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.

Mark Garnier tabled a new clause in the Agriculture Bill debate, NC4, although it was not selected for voting. The thrust of it was to ensure that the Secretary of State for DEFRA has a duty to promote UK agricultural exports and to report back annually. Importantly, trade is a two-way street and the provisions of NC1 and 2 would have potentially put up barriers to our exporters.

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.

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.