Skip to main content

Leaving the EU: Agricultural Sector and Overseas Goods

Volume 656: debated on Thursday 14 March 2019

2. What assurances the Government have provided to the agricultural sector that UK markets will not be opened to goods produced overseas to lower environmental, sanitary and phytosanitary or animal welfare standards after the UK leaves the EU. (909799)

I am grateful for the whip on Ministers having been imposed for as long as it was, otherwise I should not be standing here, but credit of course goes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands).

When we leave the EU, we will maintain our current domestic standards. We will keep our existing UK legislation, and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert EU law into UK law as it applies at the moment of exit. This includes the regulatory regimes for environmental, food safety and animal welfare standards. Without exception, of course, imports must continue to meet all relevant UK product rules and regulations, as they do today.

What assessment has the Department made of the impact of the tariff barriers introduced yesterday on the farming sector?

The tariff package announced yesterday is a balanced package. It is a temporary package. It is a response to the potential effects of leaving the EU without a deal. There are sectors that are vulnerable to competition from imports, are not as nimble as others and cannot change as quickly—farming is one of those. We believe that the balanced package we have put together will sufficiently protect farming interests in the UK.

If regulatory alignment with the EU is maintained in these goods, to what extent will that constrain our ambitions for wider trade deals?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. Of course, if the Prime Minister’s deal is passed through this House in its third iteration, it will provide for regulatory alignment not to continue and therefore we would be able to pursue trade deals internationally. Of course we can do so in any event, as not all trade deals are to do with goods.

During the BSE crisis of the 1990s, the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 and the scare of 2007, even some members of the European Union took advantage of these crises to ban British meat imports, even long after any risk had expired. If we leave with a bad deal, such as the one Parliament has now rejected twice, countries will not need an excuse to act with opportunistic protectionism in that way. So how will we make sure that our farmers are protected in the deals we strike in future?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman has a real constituency concern and interest in this. The simple fact is that the UK intends to operate within the World Trade Organisation and subscribe to the world’s rules-based order on trade, and that gives us a great deal of protection. We are always able to bring disputes if we feel that WTO rules are being flouted inappropriately.

In the United States, pork is produced using ractopamine, which causes heart disease, and it is not treated for trichinosis, which can lead to stomach upset. The US National Pork Producers Council wants its standards included in the US-UK trade deal, and it has the support of its Government in that demand. This threat to food safety is completely unacceptable, so will the Minister rule out any reduction in food standards in international trade agreements?

I repeat what we have said from this Dispatch Box and this Department many, many times: we absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that our food standards should be maintained. As for the requirements the US has laid out in its provisional negotiating strategy for its agreement with the UK, if he looks carefully at previous such agreements and previous such outline mandates from the US, he will find that they are almost exactly the same in every respect. That does not mean to say that they are delivered in that form.