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Trade Agreements Must Maintain High Food Standards

Trade Agreement Food Standards

It is critical that all future bilateral trade agreements maintain the highest food safety standards and don’t generate a race to the bottom with UK farmers and food producers trying to compete against cheap imports of lower quality. This is particularly true if the UK is to become a global leader as Environment Secretary Michael Gove outlined in his January speech to the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Whilst we applaud Gove for his commitment to maintain the highest food safety standards in all future trade deals saying “any future trade deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers”, the risk still remains.

Modern trade deals can have profound effects on many areas of domestic policy including food safety, animal welfare, consumer rights, and environmental standards. Much attention has been paid to the controversial practices in the US of chlorinated poultry washes and the use of hormones in beef. Such practices have the potential to undermine UK food standards. However, there are a host of other differences that go beyond these two examples. We recently published a policy briefing that outlines the Top 10 Food Safety Concerns in a future Transatlantic Trade Deal.

Whilst the Undersecretary for the US Department of Agriculture, Ted McKinney, has been getting  “sick and tired of hearing about chlorinated chicken”, the UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox has been defending the controversial practice, saying “there are no health reasons why you couldn’t eat chickens that have been washed in chlorinated water”. 

Given the considerable influence on the direction of future trade deals that Government officials can have, we must remain vigilant to ensure that future trade deals do not allow food that has been produced to a lower safety standard into the UK market, undercutting UK farmers.

To ensure that the whole process is done in the most transparent and democratic way possible, the Soil Association helped to establish the Trade Democracy Coalition, which was launched in Westminster in November. Read our blog on the launch here. Trade policies have huge implications for food, farming and environmental protection. We agree there must be more transparency and scrutiny of trade deals that the UK wants to negotiate, as the Government prepares to leave the EU. To ensure effective public and parliamentary participation and scrutiny of trade deals, the Trade Democracy coalition is urging the Government to establish a process which:

  • Establishes broad principles for all trade policy that aligns it with human rights, workers’ rights, development objectives and environmental commitments;
  • Requires parliamentary approval of negotiating positions before starting the process of formal negotiations with a trade partner;
  • Requires participatory impact assessments, which are publicly available, to provide information on which to base decisions, including human rights, environment and international development;
  • Includes full and meaningful public consultation, including public hearings, on proposed negotiations;
  • Makes negotiating texts publicly available in a manner that allows for meaningful adjustments to be made, including halting negotiations;
  • Requires full parliamentary debate and a vote on agreements before they come into force.

We will continue to work with the Trade Democracy Coalition to advocate for greater transparency for all future trade negotiations and will keep Soil Association members apprised of any important developments. To read more about the Coalition’s policy recommendations, click here.

 

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