A trade deal with the US would be terrible for UK farmers and the Government is refusing to publish evidence which could prove it, says Labour Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman.
The Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, in his dogmatic approach to trade policy, has made no secret of his disregard for the high standards that British workers, producers and consumers so value.
He indicated this when, in the context of a potential UK-US trade agreement, he described chlorine-washed chicken as a mere detail, and told reporters the focus should instead be on ‘how we make our contribution to global liberalisation’.
Despite Liam Fox’s claims, chlorinated chicken not only poses health and environmental concerns, but raises concerns all along the production line.
The US approach to wash chicken carcasses in chlorine to get rid of pathogens accrued during the life and slaughter of the animal raises animal welfare concerns.
The UK, as an EU member state, has high health and safety, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, environmental and animal welfare standards which do not allow such practices.
Unfortunately, it is clear that Liam Fox is prepared to sacrifice these for a quick trade agreement with the USA.
Wherever I go, people speak to me about their worries of post-Brexit standards.
From constituents I bump into in the supermarket to farmers whose farms I visit in my role as Shadow Defra Secretary, there is tremendous worry out there that we will see the high standards we currently enjoy chipped away to satisfy the likes of Donald Trump.
Through the Trade Bill, Ministers are giving themselves an array of ‘Henry VIII’ powers, to undermine any aspects of our regulation which they deem to be ‘red tape’ in their pursuit of trade agreements worldwide without parliamentary scrutiny.
Furthermore, the Government has made it clear that in the context of impact assessments and judging what is in the public interest, this public interest will predominantly be taken to mean consumer interest.
While Labour is in favour of cheaper products being made available to UK consumers, this must not be done at the expense of quality, environmental and animal welfare standards, workers’ rights and social protections here or abroad.
Labour introduced a series of amendments to the Trade Bill that would seek to ensure future trade agreements, including those new agreements that correspond to existing EU-third country treaties, would not allow for any reduction in current animal welfare and farming standards.
The Government voted against every single one of these amendments.
We now have the Agriculture Bill currently going through the House, and once again the Government has failed to put in place any measures to ensure all food and agricultural products imported into the UK will be produced to equivalent standards to our domestic ones.
This should include guarantees that imports will meet animal welfare standards, environmental protections and food production standards as well as sanitary and phytosanitary standards.
Failure to ensure imports meet the same standards as UK products will mean that goods entering the UK market may have been produced to these lower standards, as well as less stringent environmental and animal welfare protections.
This may well mean that such products have been produced at a lower cost, and will undercut British producers who produce high-quality goods to high standards.
Furthermore, an investigation by Greenpeace has revealed that the Government is refusing to release any analysis of the economic benefits of a trade deal with the USA, nor would they publish their analysis of the impacts of a potential US trade deal.
Such analysis should clarify to what extent the benefits of a trade deal are dependent on lowering food standards, environmental regulations and animal welfare laws.
The Agriculture Bill will return to the House of Commons to complete its remaining stages in the coming weeks, and the Labour Party intends to once again table amendments in an attempt to protect British farmers and food producers from the threat posed by lower quality imports.
We want to see British agriculture and horticulture go from strength to strength – and that simply won’t happen if the Government insists on asking ‘How high?’ every time Donald Trump tells them to jump.
Sue can be found tweeting at @SueHayman1