Standards encapsulate the values of a nation and the UK is ‘absolutely right’ to highlight the importance of upholding them as the Government negotiates new trade deals.
Carolyn Fairbairn, director general at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told NFU Conference trade was a ‘contact sport’ and while businesses were rightly nervous about the future trading environment outside the EU, there were opportunities to be grasped.
She said it was down to the UK and organisations like the NFU to hammer home the importance of trade priorities and help countries such as the US to understand why factors such as animal welfare and reducing antibiotic use were so important.
“Standards encapsulate who we are as a country in terms of animal welfare, food safety how we care for the environment and employment standards,” she told delegates at the ICC in Birmingham.
“They are about who we are as a nation. It is absolutely appropriate for standards to dominate discussion on trade.”
She highlighted a recent CBI survey which found businesses were ‘optimistic and spirits had been lifted after the end of the gridlock last year’, but attentions were now turning to converting that optimism into investment.
“The Government has set out to create a high productivity, high growth country,” Dame Carolyn said.
“As a business community we need to come up with the solutions and the vision. Some of this will be disruptive but we have to support our members to change and adapt.”
Later in a press conference, NFU president Minette Batters referenced Defra Secretary George Eustice’s appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday, where he said there was a ‘conversation to be had’ around standards, pointing to the use of lactic acid to wash chicken – a common practice in the US.
Ms Batters said: “We have to define what we want from the standards of imports. It is not about lactic acid, it is about method of production.
“We have a lot of cost in our supply chain to deliver what the customer wants. If we bring in ingredients that do not have to have those standards we undermine our own production and we put farmers out of business.
“And speaking farmers our in the US, they do not want to put our farmers out of business either.”