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Food and Agricultural Standards

Volume 649: debated on Thursday 15 November 2018

5. Whether food and agricultural imports will have to meet the same (a) food safety and (b) sanitary and phytosanitary standards as domestic products under new free trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU. (907615)

The Government have been clear that future imports to the UK must meet UK food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. We will not compromise our standards in pursuit of a trade agreement.

The Minister knows full well that UK consumers expect safe, high-quality food. The Secretary of State has assured us that he has 40 trade deals ready to go at the drop of a hat. Can the Minister tell us how many of those trade deals embed the exact same high food standards?

The 40 deals to which the hon. Gentleman refers are, of course, the deals that the EU currently has with partners. Our ambition is to transition those trade deals exactly as they are—or at least as closely as possible—and they contain the current measures.

We not only have really high welfare and hygiene standards, but reduce much antibiotic use by producing good-quality food. Can we be assured that food that does not meet those standards will not come into the country and that those standards will not be frittered away in an agreement on service industries?

I can say to my hon. Friend the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that we absolutely have that intention. It is very straightforward. When I am abroad, I find on a regular basis, as the Secretary of State has said, that it is the commitment to high standards in the UK market that so motivates consumers to buy our products. Not only is having these high standards the right thing to do, but there is no rational commercial incentive to do otherwise.

The so-called backstop would trap Northern Ireland in a common regulatory area under EU rules for our key export industries of manufacturing, agriculture and agri-food. What assessment has the Department made of the impact of that on Northern Ireland’s ability to participate in UK-wide trade deals in relation to those key exports?

The Government have only just published the withdrawal agreement, which will be before the House shortly, and the Department will assess all issues of that sort in the context of the proposed agreement.

The Secretary of State spoke earlier of how highly regarded UK goods are. That is true of successful exports such as dairy, smoked salmon and vegetables. I noticed that the Minister made a commitment in his initial answer to not dropping our food standards. Given that the United States has made it clear that that is exactly what has to happen to agree any future trade deals, will he now rule out any trade deals, including with the United States, that see any drop in our very high and successful food standards?

I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave moments ago. We are scoping potential trade deals with all the partners with whom we have announced that we are seeking to do free trade deals, and our position on these standards remains exactly the same: we will not be changing UK law in this regard.