- The US will not sign a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK unless its food standards demands are met.
- That’s according to Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who on Monday said agriculture was a “fundamental” issue for the US in talks with the UK.
- Boris Johnson is under immense pressure to protect UK farmers from US meat and food imports.
- However, Lighthizer warned: ‘We are not going to be in a position where our farmers are treated unfairly.’
- Lighthizer also said completing a trade agreement this year would be ‘nearly impossible.’
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The US will not sign a free trade deal with the UK if its farmers cannot sell meat and other agricultural goods to Britain without barriers, the Trump administration’s most senior trade representative has warned.
Robert Lighthizer, the US Trade Representative, told the House of Representative’s Ways and Means Committee on Monday that the Trump administration would “push this off” if the UK government did not accept US demands on food standards.
He warned that whatever happens in trade talks with Boris Johnson’s UK government, the US is “not going to be in a position where our farmers are treated unfairly.”
Agriculture is perhaps the most contentious issue in the UK’s talks with the US over a post-Brexit trade deal.
Dozens of UK Members of Parliament, including a number in Boris Johnson’s own Conservative party, have urged him to not accept US agricultural imports of a lower standard in a trade deal, citing concerns over animal welfare.
The US practice of washing chicken in chlorine has become totemic of this issue, with UK farming groups warning that this process, banned in the European Union, masks inadequacies in how US meat is produced before being sold.
Lighthizer warned that agriculture was among “very, very fundamental issues” in trade negotiations with the UK, which started earlier this year, telling US lawmakers: “I don’t want anyone to think that this is going to be a rollover.”
He warned that the US would not sign a trade deal unless its demands on food standards were met.
“I read their [the UK] press, as I know you do, and the agriculture issues are heating up over there as are a lot of other issues that the United States Congress would not accept in a trade deal,” he said on Monday.
“And if they insist on those, then we will just have to push this off until they don’t.
“My hope is they’ll see the overall benefit to their economy, their workers, and their farmers, in the same way that we do and we can move forward.
“I haven’t got to the point where I’d say this issue is gonna blow things up but we all know we have certain defensive interests and certain offensive interests.
“And one thing is for sure, we are not going to be in a position where our farmers are treated unfairly. That’s for sure.”
Prime Minister Johnson faces a major headache in trying to balance the concerns of UK farmers and sympathetic MPs with US demands on what must be included in a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
Minette Batters, the president of the UK’s National Farmers Union, has described Johnson’s refusal to commit in law to upholding current food standards as”pretty terrifying.” The UK currently follows EU rules when it comes to food standards, owing to its former membership of the bloc. Over one million have people have signed a new NFU petition calling for the UK government to block food imports that do not meet the UK’s standards.
According to recent reports, Johnson is considering a “dual-tariff” system in order to protect UK farmers. Under this system, US farmers would be allowed to export meat and other goods to UK. However, they would be subjected to tariffs.
A spokesperson for The National Chicken Council, one of the biggest US trade associations in agriculture, told Business Insider that this proposal was unacceptable.
“It is the National Chicken Council’s position that any free trade deal be just that – free and fair – unfettered by any tariff or non-tariff barriers,” they said.
“Our US negotiators have made it clear that they expect any trade agreement between the US and UK to include US agriculture, including US chicken.”
Completing a deal with the UK this year is ‘nearly impossible’
Speaking on Monday, Lighthizer also said that completing a trade deal with UK this calendar year was “nearly impossible,” dashing Prime Minister Johnson’s hopes of a quick agreement with President Trump.
Asked about the prospect of finalising a deal with the UK in 2020, he said: “If you look at the timing of most of these agreements… that would be very, very quick time and I think it’s unlikely that happens.”
He added: “It’s unlikely that we will get an agreement. One to present to Congress for congressional action I would put at a nearly impossible time, given the various time delays that are built into TPA (the Trade Promotion Authority.)
“So I would say it’s possible though unlikely that we can get an agreement. It is almost impossible unless the members decided they wanted to do something extraordinary, to have it actually come before the Congress before November.”
Lighthizer said he believed the two sides would be able to reach an agreement, and that the “the question, with like every negotiation, is when.”
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“The imperative to have one is overwhelming,” he said.
“Our economies are fairly close, our systems are fairly close, and they are amongst our closest allies. I’m confident that we will get an agreement and I’m confident that we will get one that will be warmly received by congress.”
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