The United States has kick-started formal proceedings to negotiate a trade deal with the UK which provides ‘timely and substantive results for US farmers and ranchers’.
The official announcement of President Trump’s intention to do the deal came in the form of a letter from American Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to the US Congress.
In the document, Mr Lighthizer repeatedly states any UK-US trade deal must be consistent with priorities outlined in the US Trade Priorities and Accountability Act, which requires the ‘reducing or eliminating [of] unjustified sanitary or phytosanitary restrictions’ and ‘other unjustified technical barriers to trade’.
Successive American administrations have made clear they believe products such as hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed chicken have been subjected to such ‘unjustified restrictions’ by the EU.
Though Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the AHDB Exploring Agricultural Export Opportunities conference last week that UK standards were the ‘unique selling point’ of British produce, he went on to welcome the letter from Mr Lighthizer, describing the announcement as the ‘first real step towards an independent trade policy’.
He also appeared to show support for a US-style system of regulation on agricultural technology such as gene editing, saying he believed future policies should be ‘based on science’.
“We have to pay attention to any concepts like the precautionary principle, which if taken too far, can easily become a tool of protection in an economy,” he said.
“You have to try and balance it with proper scientific advice. That is very much the direction certainly I will be pushing for as we move into the post-Brexit world.”
Despite the fact Mr Lighthizer’s letter to Congress made clear the Trump administration is intending any US-UK trade deal to cover agriculture, Dr Fox admitted the Prime Minister’s Chequers plan could, in practice, limit Britain’s ability to sign such an agreement.
When pressed by AHDB chairman Peter Kendall for a guarantee that imports would have to meet UK standards, the Trade Secretary pointed out the Chequers deal would force the UK to maintain regulatory alignment with the EU.
He said: “Some would say that could limit our freedom to do trade deals, and to some extent, that is right.”