Farming groups have urged the Government to protect the industry’s needs in trade deals following revelations that preliminary talks with the US are to be conducted in secret.
Leaked documents from the Department for International Trade (DIT) show the discussions, which will ‘lay the groundwork for a potential future free trade agreement’, are to be classified as ‘sensitive’ or ‘confidential’, with information shared only between approved individuals.
The papers also suggest nothing can be released for four years after talks are concluded, unless both sides waive the secrecy rule.
The revelations have sparked a backlash from campaigning organisations which fear food standards could be weakened as a result of any US-UK trade deal – something Defra Secretary Michael Gove has repeatedly ruled out.
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “We know the public want to support British farmers and buy British produce.
“It is critical that any future trade deals do not allow food imports produced to lower standards to undermine the high standards British farmers produce to and the British people expect.
“While it is no surprise preliminary discussions between the UK and US Governments on a future trade deal are underway, it is critical the UK Government engages extensively with the farming industry as talks progress to ensure the terms of any future deal do not damage our vital and valued domestic agricultural sector.”
Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts said sharing experiences and information with American colleagues was vital to establish export markets, but warned Welsh produce would continue to need protection from imitation.
He also called for better and more accurate food labelling.
A DIT spokesman said: “The DIT has been completely open about trade talks with the US and has made sure information handling agreements will not alter the department’s method of consulting widely on our approach to the talks.
“Only last month we also issued a public readout of topics discussed in the latest meeting of the UK-US Trade Working Group, and held a stakeholder update meeting.
“To support productive discussions, the Working Group needs to exchange some information in confidence, and these arrangements strictly adhere to Cabinet Office guidance on international exchanges of classified information.”