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Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 30 October 2014

5. What part her Department has played in negotiating the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. (905743)

TTIP could be worth up to £10 billion a year for the UK. It has the potential to deliver significant opportunities for UK agriculture, food and drink. We are working very closely with BIS to ensure that TTIP maximises the benefits for UK businesses and consumers.

The poultry industry, by which I mean the producers of poultry meat and eggs, have driven up animal welfare standards and hygiene in their businesses. Will the Minister assure that industry that that progress will not be compromised by unfair competition from US producers following lower standards?

I have met members of the poultry industry and the British Poultry Council to discuss their concerns. We managed to get a very successful free trade agreement with Canada. Sometimes it is possible to work through the sanitary and phytosanitary issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, as well as animal welfare issues, and to establish equivalent rather than identical measures. That is the spirit in which we should approach the negotiations.

I welcome the openness of a free trade agreement, but can the Minister tell us what steps he is taking to ensure that there are no mechanisms included in it—such as an investor-state dispute settlement—that would enable powerful vested interests to bully future Governments into dropping legislation that would improve food standards? We have already seen that happen with the disgraceful action of the Philip Morris tobacco company against the Australian Government.

I know that some people have expressed concern about the use of ISDS. Both the European Union and the United Kingdom are very conscious of that, and we do not intend to allow such agreements to undermine our ability to set our own welfare and regulatory standards when it comes to animal health.

Given that this country has been a member of the European Union in its various guises for more than 40 years, does my hon. Friend not think that we could have made faster progress in negotiating the trade deal with the United States of America if we had been doing it on our own rather than relying on the European Union to do it for us?

My hon. Friend may be right. It might have been possible to reach some of these free trade agreements more quickly. Indeed, we do make certain changes bilaterally, when it is a question of breaking down some of the non-tariff barriers to trade. However, being part of a customs union in the EU is of significant importance to our food industry, which is the largest manufacturing industry in the country.