- British farmers fear Boris Johnson will surrender UK food standards to Trump in upcoming trade talks.
- The UK government is refusing put in law a commitment to current EU protections for food standards, which will expire at the end of 2020.
- NFU Brexit director Nick von Westenholz said the group feared the UK government would ultimately concede ground on food standards in talks with “fearsome” US negotiators.
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Britain’s farmers fear Boris Johnson’s government will trade away British food standards in Brexit trade talks with “fearsome” US negotiators, the main group representing farmers in the UK has told Business Insider.
Johnson’s administration is resisting calls by UK farmers to put current EU protections for food standards into law, in time for the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020.
The UK government is currently refusing to add concrete legal protections into the Agriculture Bill, on the grounds that Johnson and other senior ministers have already made verbal commitments to maintaining food standards after Brexit.
Johnson on Monday insisted that the UK would not lower food standards to strike a trade deal with Trump. “We will not accept any diminution in food hygiene or animal welfare standards,” he said in a speech in south London.
The Department for International Trade on Thursday also said in a statement setting out its broad trading objectives that it would not “compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
However, European Union law, which the UK currently applies in full, has different rules to the US when it comes to food hygiene and animal welfare.
It prohibits US products like chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef entering European markets.
Nick von Westenholz, the NFU’s Brexit director, told Business Insider that while it was “very reassuring” to hear statements from Johnson and his ministers, the union representing farmers is still concerned about what the prime minister will actually do when free trade negotiations with the US get underway.
“We all know in a trade negotiation, at some point, it [the UK] is going to need to make concessions,” he said.
“And this isn’t a negotiation with a small partner where the UK can flex its muscles.
“This is a negotiation with one of the largest economies in the world with an absolutely fearsome reputation for negotiating trade deals, and one which under the current administration is even more transactional in the way it views trade relationships.”
Von Westenholz also pointed out that the DIT statement released on Thursday describes “our” standards, and does not necessarily refer to the standards of products imported from other countries.
“Let’s be honest: the UK government is going to come under tremendous pressure on some of these issues [in negotiations].”
“At the moment, there is no reassurance outside of verbal guarantees that we’ve been given. We’ve asked for legal safeguards on UK standards and production.”
The UK government is expected to begin negotiations with the US administration in the next few weeks.
US-UK trade talks set to begin soon
The NFU will next month lead a “food standards” rally in Westminster to apply pressure on the UK government as it negotiates post-Brexit trade deals with the US and others.
NFU President Minette Batters said it would tell ministers to “hold the line that they will uphold British farming’s high standards in trade deals, and crucially they must hold imports entering the country to that same standard.”
The US for its part has said it will prioritise access to Britain’s agricultural markets when trade talks get underway.
The US Trade Representative’s objectives for negotiations, published last year, said the UK “should remove expeditiously unwarranted barriers that block the export of U.S. food and agricultural products.”
It added that “unjustified trade restrictions” enforced in the UK as a result of its recently-expired EU membership “eliminate practices that unfairly decrease U.S. market access opportunities.”
Von Westenholz told Business Insider that the US was not the only negotiation which the NFU was concerned about.
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Food is expected to be a prominent issue in the UK’s negotiations with Australia as well, with the government in Canberra hoping to improve the country’s access to British markets for agricultural products. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will visit Canberra on Thursday to discuss a post-Brexit trade deal with his Australian counterparts.
“Often, we are talking about countries elsewhere which have much lower costs of production and less stringent standards — and it’s very easy to see those undercutting UK farmers in the future if we don’t have legal safeguards in place,” Von Westenholz said.
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