Hopes of getting the Government to reconsider its opposition to a low-standard import ban have been given a boost after the Future British Standards Coalition (FBSC) heard evidence that such controls would be compliant with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
One of the reasons Ministers have given for objecting to a blanket ban is the potential for it to be challenged at the WTO.
But the FBSC – a ‘shadow’ Trade and Agriculture Commission – was told by Emily Lydgate, deputy director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, that protection of animal welfare and environmental standards was possible under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) public morals defence.
In 2014, the WTO appellate body found that the public morals exception for trade restrictions includes animal welfare, in a decision on an EU ban on certain seal products.
Though the Government has so far refused to accept any legislative amendment that would introduce a blanket ban on low-standard imports, Farming Minister Victoria Prentis did suggest the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) could be reconvened after being disbanded if there was a need for its advice on protecting standards in future.
Speaking during the Agriculture Bill debate this week, Ms Prentis said: “[The TAC] was designed to be helpful, to feed into the trade negotiations we are conducting at the moment.
“There is nothing to stop it being stood up again if it was felt that would be helpful. There is absolutely no need to put this in the Bill.”
If the proposed Agriculture Bill amendments to ban low-standard imports and beef up the Trade Commission fail again when they return from the Lords to the Commons, focus is expected to turn to getting similar changes into the Trade Bill.
But Tenant Farmers Association chief executive George Dunn told Farmers Guardian industry would have to look at each individual trade deal as it comes if legislative changes cannot be secured.
“We will also be arguing for the use of high import tariffs which can be negotiated downwards in specific free-trade agreements where trading partners agree to be bound by our standards,” he said.
Derrick Wilkinson, a consultant economist and trade specialist, urged the farming industry to explore ‘dual tariff’ proposals, which would hit low-standard imports with high tariffs while allowing high-quality products to enter the country with lower tariffs.
He also called on the Government to issue direct payments for meeting animal welfare and environmental conditions, and for Ministers to explore more fully the effectiveness of labelling to differentiate between high and low-standard goods.