The WTO permits measures to protect the environment in certain circumstances, so Ministers should insist our future trading partners meet domestic food production standards, says Conservative peer Anne McIntosh.
We are approaching crunch time in finalising a free trade deal with the EU, while at same time the Government is pursuing other markets, such as the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The Agriculture Bill seems on course to receive Royal Assent and become law before the end of the transition period.
The Bill leaves the House of Lords as predicted, with amendments, including one with a resounding majority to uphold our standards for imported products.
Yet so many questions remain unanswered about the future of policy, with a new interim scheme having just been announced, the Sustainable Farming Initiative.
There is no widespread understanding of how the Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme will operate, no knowledge of pilots other than those participating, all is shrouded in secrecy.
The Environment Bill, setting out much of the detail relating to environmental benefits and public goods, including the role, composition and remit of the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), will not reach the House of Lords before the new year.
But a chairman of the OEP will be appointed by the year’s end and members of the board by spring.
The Government must show support for our farmers, growers and producers, not just by maintaining our high standards for production at home – in animal welfare, health and hygiene as well as environmental protections – but ensure imports match them.
As the World Trade Organisation (WTO) permits trade-related measures aimed at protecting the environment in certain circumstances, why is the Government not going further and actually insisting these standards be shared by those developed nations with whom we are seeking to negotiate free trade agreements, such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand?
And Ministers must not to confuse food safety and food standards.
To eat chlorine-rinsed chicken or hormone-injected beef will not necessarily make us ill or give us food poisoning, but could potentially undercut the costs of home-produced poultry or beef and put farmers here out of business.
Farmers need to know there will be a level playing field and fair competition delivered in future trade deals.
Anything less is just not acceptable.
An independent Trade Commission has a role to play here.
Do we want the Trade and Agriculture Commission to become permanent and review on an ongoing basis free trade agreements as they are being negotiated? Or do we want a new body to take on this role?
While we may end up with a free trade deal with the EU, let us wait to see the fine print.
In future international trade agreements, we are staring tariffs on our food exports in the face, incurring a rate of potentially forty per cent on our lamb exports, not forgetting non-tariff barriers.
We could find ourselves in a situation on January 1 where farmers trade on a market with the EU under WTO terms, which would make their exports prohibitively expensive.
Anne can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh