BY DANIEL KAWCZYNSKI
Here in the United Kingdom, we are rightly proud of our world-leading approach to animal welfare and food safety. Not only does this offer peace of mind to millions of us here in Britain, but they are a real selling point for British produce around the world.
As we prepare to leave the European Union, Parliament is taking back control of our trade and our regulations. This opens up new opportunities.
However, it has also sparked concerns. Unscrupulous members of the Opposition have whipped up fears that the new trade deals we are looking to strike after independence will compromise our values, and see British markets filled with chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef.
They then used this to try and bind the hands of our negotiators and impose a wholly unworkable set of new restrictions on food imports and exports. I want to explain why I voted against these measures, and how the Government is protecting the quality standards we are so proud of.
For starters, our current food safety standards – upheld by the independent Food Standards Agency – are already enshrined in law. The only way to change them would be to table new legislation, and I know that neither I nor a great many of my colleagues would support any such changes.
The Government will continue to examine options around labelling and better consumer information, including voluntary animal welfare assurance schemes and Government backed labelling, as well as work across the globe to enhance welfare standards through bilateral promotion with trade partners and advocacy of animal welfare and environmental issues in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
The proposals tabled by the Opposition would make no difference to these fundamentals. They would, however, make it extremely difficult for us to include our agricultural sector in future trade deals. This is because they sought not only to ensure that the quality of the end product meets our standards – but that the entire production chain does too.
Setting aside for one moment the hypocrisy of trying to impose our standards on other sovereign countries just as we regain control of our own, this is deeply impractical. Even relative to the EU many of our animal welfare standards are much higher than those in much of the continent. Should we ban European imports from the shelves?
It would also hurt our exports with any country with which we have yet to sign a so-called ‘continuity agreement’. These roll over the terms of our existing trade relationship (perhaps with some improvements, as with the recent Japanese deal).
But if we start trying to insert new conditions, especially such extensive ones, there is a danger that many countries will simply refuse to ratify a deal at all, putting us straight back to square one and risking exports of goods from potato to whisky worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year! Especially since we already import food from countries such as Canada, Japan and South Africa under preference in existing free trade agreements, and none of these agreements include the requirements that the Lords amendment was seeking.
Such a deadlock would not only mean less choice and higher prices in our shops, but fewer opportunities for our exporters. These new trade deals have the potential to unlock big new markets: beef exports to the United States alone are estimated to be worth up to £66 million to British farmers over the next five years. But striking these deals will involve not only getting rid of tariffs, but so-called ‘non-tariff barriers’, including anti-competitive regulations.
I was also deeply concerned that the changes would discriminate against producers in the developing world. One of the reasons I wanted to break out of the EU’s agricultural protectionism was because I believe that free trade is the key to lifting millions of people out of poverty. How is it fair to suddenly expect them to fully adopt the practices of first-world farmers – or to adapt to regulations developed for a completely different climate?
My priorities are clear: we need rules which ensure that all agricultural goods arriving in the UK are of the standard that British consumers expect, and which maximise the opportunities for our farmers and producers to break into new markets overseas. Latter-day regulatory imperialism is not the way to do this.
Daniel Kawczynski MP is the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and Atcham.