US urges Britain to press ‘reset button’ on food rules after Brexit

January 7, 2018, 6:00 pm
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Source: Financial Times

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A US trade official urged Britain to press the “reset button” and move away from strict EU food production rules on Thursday, as UK environment secretary Michael Gove insisted he would not “compromise on high standards” in any future trade deals.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Gove said the UK took the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary standards — which currently ban the importation of both hormone-produced beef and chlorine-washed chicken from the US — “very seriously”.

At the same event, Ted McKinney, US undersecretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, called on the UK to adopt its own regulatory standards after Brexit.

Asked whether the UK would be a less attractive long-term trading partner if it chose not to relax the current EU rules, Mr McKinney said: “We hope that the UK will look for its own food standards, environmental safety protocols.

“We find the EU a very difficult place to do business and so we hope that as part of Brexit, the reset button can at least be considered. I think to the degree that some of the sanitary and phytosanitary burdens are removed, or changed, there is much greater opportunity for trade between the UK and US.”

When Mr Gove was asked whether tariff-free trade between Ireland and the UK could result in the widespread importation of hormone-treated beef from the US, the environment secretary said he could not predict “what’s going to happen”.

“But we’ve made it very clear repeatedly that both our jurisdictions take the question of SPS, animal welfare and broader environmental considerations very seriously”, he said.

“Neither of our respective jurisdictions will want compromise on high standards, both of us will be vigilant on making sure, that as we hope to secure a future trade deal, that we provide our own respective publics with the guarantees that they expect.”

Mr McKinney said his department had a “Google search” on Mr Gove’s speeches, to ensure the UK environment secretary does not conflate food safety issues with animal welfare concerns.

He said he was “sick and tired” of hearing about chlorinated chicken, telling journalists at the event: “We hold our food safety and environment and animal welfare standards up against the UK any day of the week and twice on Sunday.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Gove told British farmers that the UK government would maintain the £3bn that they currently receive in annual subsidies from the EU until at least 2022, and that there would then be a “transition period”.

But he said that future subsidies would depend on farmers’ willingness to offer wider environmental benefits, such as planting meadows.

Mary Creagh, the Labour MP who chairs the environmental audit committee, said that announcing the subsidy before the strategy was “like putting the cart before the horse”.

Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, broadly welcomed Mr Gove’s speech but said she had concerns about how any post-Brexit trade deals would affect British farmers.

“We’re very proud of our high standards of environmental protection, of welfare, in the UK and we want those to be respected in any trade negotiation and we do not want to see cheaper food produced to lower standards”, she said.

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