Concern over food safety as US seeks greater access to UK markets
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 by the office of the US trade representative, headed by Robert Lighthizer, as required by Congress. The office said it was seeking “comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods in the UK”.
It was also looking to remove “unwarranted barriers” related to “sanitary and physiosanitary” 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 – are unwarranted.
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 outline trade objectives were published weeks after the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, revealed that some countries wanted the UK to roll back on its human rights standards in exchange for a deal.
In December, a former Conservative environment minister said food safety in the UK and public confidence in it would be placed at risk if the government pursued a free-trade agreement with the US.
If imports of US-standard food were allowed, “you would have a huge decline in food safety”, said Lord Deben, now chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. “Food safety is a huge issue.”
Under the “fast-track trade negotiating authority law, the US will seek to boost trade between the countries by eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers”, the US trade representative’s office said.
In a document, the US said it aimed to “reduce burdens associated with unnecessary differences in regulation”.
President Donald Trump has demanded better terms of trade, saying poor deals have cost the US millions of jobs.
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 also wants guarantees on currency, 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”.