The Guardian | 25 February 2020
EU demands UK keep chlorinated chicken ban to get trade deal
by Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin
The EU will demand that the UK maintains a ban on chlorinated chicken as the price for a trade agreement with Brussels, in a move that protects European meat exports and creates an obstacle to a deal with Donald Trump.
On the recommendation of France, a clause has been inserted into the EU’s negotiating mandate to insist that both sides maintain “health and product sanitary quality in the food and agriculture sector”, according to a copy leaked to the Guardian.
The paragraph, in a newly entitled section of the document for the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, called “Environment and health” provides a catch-all insurance for the EU that certain methods of food production – particular pesticides, endocrine disrupters or chlorine washes for poultry – will not be used in the UK.
At the weekend, George Eustice, the new UK environment secretary, refused to guarantee that the government would not allow the importation of chlorine-washed chicken as part of a trade deal with the US.
Eustice’s stance has caused concern in the UK where the National Farmers’ Union called for other countries to trade with Britain “on our terms”. The EU also fears that current suppliers of meat to the UK could be undercut by US imports.
It is understood that France’s proposal to change the negotiating mandate had full backing from other member states.
It was agreed last Friday while other “level playing field” provisions only received unanimous support on Monday from EU ambassadors.
EU ministers will sign off on the 46-page negotiating mandate for Barnier on Tuesday before the start of talks next week.
More generally, a debate had been ongoing between the French government, which wanted to tie the UK completely to the developing EU rulebook on environmental, social and workers’ standards, and other member states who believed it would be a demand too far.
Following agreement by ambassadors, the EU will now demand the right to punish Britain if the government fails to shadow the Brussels rulebook in the future but they will not insist on “dynamic alignment” across the board.
The compromise involves Brussels retaining the right to apply tariffs or other sanctions if any divergence between the two sides over time led to “disruptions of the equal condition of competition”, with EU law being the “reference point”.
“It is about equality of outcomes,” one senior EU source said.
The leaked agreement, obtained by the Guardian, states “the envisaged agreement should uphold common high standards, and corresponding high standards over time with union standards as a reference point”.
The EU also wants to establish a “governing body” to oversee a deal that “should be empowered to modify the level playing field commitments in order to include additional areas or to lay down higher standards over time”.
France was alone in holding out for guarantees to go beyond mere “non-regression” from the current shared regulations.
The bloc will also demand that the British government apply EU state aid rules in their entirety as they evolve – the one instance where Brussels is demanding complete alignment over time. The rules limit subsidies that can be given to industry.
Barnier has admitted that such a policy is a “red rag” to the UK.
Before the meeting of EU ministers, France and Germany also warned Boris Johnson about backsliding on commitments made under the Brexit withdrawal agreement, after reports suggested ministers were looking for ways around the Irish sea border, agreed with the EU last year.
Germany’s European affairs minister, Michael Roth, said: “My message is crystal clear to our friends in London: keep your promises based on the protocol.”
Amélie de Montchalin, France’s Europe minister, said the EU had a “robust and “precise” mandate.
She said the EU would have a mechanism to sanction the UK for potential violations of EU standards. “Zero tariffs, zero quotas, it is possible if there is zero dumping, but that does not mean zero control.”
“Our position, it’s not a position of revenge, or punishment or sanction, it is a position that is economically rational,” she said. “I have heard that British companies would like continued access to European markets, they know well that means respecting sanitary and production standards.”
The Dutch foreign minister, Stef Blok, said negotiations would be complicated, given the range of interests at stake, including fisheries, trade, security and people to people contact. “I really hope that we will manage to reach an agreement with the UK before the end of the year,” he said.“The time pressure is immense, the interests are huge, it’s a very complicated treaty, so it will be very hard work.”
Andreja Metelko-Zgombić, Croatia’s state secretary for European affairs, who is chairing the meeting, said the mandate was precisely defined. “It is ambitious, wide-ranging and our negotiator will have a good framework for future negotiations. Of course it is up to the parties when they sit around the table how far they are willing to come.”
The UK is likely to publish its plans on Thursday. The government has said it will reject any deal that involves alignment on policy or Britain remaining under the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. The UK is insisting that a Canada-style trade deal, with looser provisions on ensuring a competitive level playing field, is the most appropriate option.
The EU’s position was backed by the National Farmers’ Union whose president, Minette Batters, said it would be “morally bankrupt” and “insane” of Johnson to drop the UK’s high farming and food standards in order to strike a US deal.
She raised concerns that Johnson had dismissed concerns over American animal welfare and food standards as “hysteria” and “mumbo jumbo” in a keynote speech in Greenwich three weeks ago.
“To sign up to a trade deal which results in opening our ports, shelves and fridges to food which would be illegal to produce here would not only be morally bankrupt. It would be the work of the insane”.
She said the concern was not just the chlorine or lactic acid wash that the US allowed in its food production but the use of antibiotics in countries such as Japan, Australia, China, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia and India.
“This isn’t hysteria. This isn’t mumbo jumbo. This is fact.”