The Guardian | 1 March 2019
Concern over food safety as US seeks greater access to UK markets
by Lisa O’Carroll
The US has outlined its objectives for a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, demanding greater access to the food markets where products such as chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef are banned under EU rules.
The US laid out its aims for a trade deal to cut tariff and non-tariff barriers for US industrial and agricultural goods and reduce regulatory differences.
The Trump administration is seeking to eliminate or reduce barriers for US agricultural products and secure duty-free access for industrial goods.
The outline requirements were published [pdf] by the office of the US trade representative (USTR), headed by Robert Lighthizer, as required by Congress. The office said it was seeking “comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods in the UK”.
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It was also looking to remove “unwarranted barriers” related to “sanitary and phytosanitary” standards in the farm industry, something that would put it at loggerheads with the UK environment secretary, Michael Gove, who has repeatedly said British food standards will remain the same if not be better than they currently are.
The US has long considered EU rules on food a barrier to trade and has said fears that its food is unsafe to eat because of differences in production rules – including use of pesticides, chlorine and hormones – were unjustified.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said it was not surprised that the US would be pushing for a trade deal that accepted its production standards and practices.
The NFU president, Minette Batters, said: “It is imperative that any future trade deals, including a possible deal with the USA, do not allow the imports of food produced to lower standards than those required of British farmers.
“British people value and demand the high standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety that our own farmers adhere to. These world-leading standards must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of reaching rushed trade deals.”
While the outline objectives are merely the opening gambit in trade talks, they indicate the many hurdles to the quick deal promised by Brexiters.
The Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg told Sky News the publication of the outline objectives was a “positive first step” to a deal with the US which would be “good for UK consumers as it would open markets to greater competition”.
He said: “It is encouraging that the US wants to move quickly and has made the first move before we have left.”
A change in food standards after Brexit would have ramifications for an open border in Ireland as it would fuel fears that banned goods could seep into the food chain through cross-border production of meat and dairy products.
Apart from differences of regulation in relation to the use of chlorine to wash chicken and the use of hormones in the rearing of cattle, US officials have also recently spoken about barriers in pork production.
Gove has held firm on his position that the UK would not compromise on food standards. He has in the past expressed concern about antibiotics used for livestock and bee-harming pesticides, neonicotinoids, used on grain that goes into breakfast cereals and other consumer foods.
The US is also seeking commitments from the UK to establish “state-of-the-art” rules to ensure cross-border data flows and not to impose customs duties on digital products.
It wants guarantees on currency as well, with rules to “ensure that the UK avoids manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain an unfair competitive advantage”.
A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “Negotiating an ambitious free-trade agreement with the US that maintains our high standards for businesses, workers and consumers is a priority.
“So we welcome the US government publishing their objectives, which demonstrates their commitment to beginning talks as soon as possible.
“As part of our open and transparent approach to negotiations, we will publish our own negotiating objectives in due course.”