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Free Trade Agreement Negotiations: Food and Farming

Volume 679: debated on Thursday 3 September 2020

What steps her Department is taking to engage with the food and farming sector as part of free trade agreement negotiations. (905340)

We have established an agri-food trade advisory group to ensure that farmers and food producers are involved in the details of our negotiations. We have also launched the Trade and Agriculture Commission to advise and inform on agriculture, trade policies and export opportunities for UK farmers.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, contrary to persistent rumours in the media, chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef will not be on our supermarket shelves post Brexit?

I can confirm that, as part of the EU withdrawal Act, the ban in place on chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef remains after we leave the transition period on 1 January 2021.

Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Speaker.

We are either facing a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit and, as a result, food and farming have taken on really great importance. It is an issue that has caused near meltdown for the new and already failing Tory leaders in Scotland, with the National Farmers Union Scotland, giving them the yellow card for being misleading and leaving farmers fuming. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to ease farmers’ anger and consumers’ anxiety and state categorically that there will be no changing of food standards or any compromise whatsoever in any trade deal on the high standards of the food that now goes on our supermarket shelves?

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, and I point out that NFU Scotland sits as part of our Trade and Agriculture Commission, looking at future trade policy.

NFU Scotland is not just fuming: it is telling us that that the leader of the Scottish Conservatives is misrepresenting its position. The reality is that the Scottish NFU is clear in its view that it wants the Trade Bill amended to ban food imports not produced to UK standards. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she is at least listening to NFU Scotland, even if she does not agree with it, and will she tell the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) to give a true account of the NFU’s views?

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) is a huge champion of Scottish farming and the Scotch whisky industry, and I am working extremely closely with him. I am also working very closely with NFU Scotland, and it is involved in the Trade and Agriculture Commission. The fundamental principle of our trade policy is that we will not allow our fantastic farmers, whether in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and their great produce to be undermined. What we want them to be doing is exporting more around the world.

During the passage of the Trade Bill, farmers via the NFU and others, including doctors via the British Medical Association, expressed deep concerns that food standards in future trade deals could be under threat, allowing in, for example, vegetables from the US, where 72 chemicals are allowed that are currently banned in the UK. Given that the Government refused to legislate in the Trade Bill to stop the lowering of standards, how will the Secretary of State respond in her engagement with farmers to ensure that that will not happen in future?

In the EU withdrawal Act, all the import standards that we had as part of the EU have been transposed into UK law. Those import standards remain, and we will not be negotiating them away in any trade agreement. Furthermore, we have the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which is specifically involving organisations such as NFU Scotland, to ensure that British farmers get a fair deal and British consumers have products that they can have confidence in.

All that answer confirms is that there are no legislative protections in the Trade Bill and that MPs will have no say in any future trade deal except for potentially a “take it or leave it” choice after the negotiations are concluded. Given that Which? tells us that 95% of the public want to maintain current food standards, why do this Government continue to rule out real legislative protections in a trade Bill that would accord with the views of our farmers, our doctors and the general public?

These standards, such as the ban on chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, are already in UK law as part of the EU withdrawal Act. I have been explicit: it is not a matter for trade policy; it is a matter for our domestic law what standards we have in this country, and we are not trading it away, so it should not be part of any trade Bill. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) speaks from a sedentary position. I do not think that it is the Government’s job to legislate twice for things that are already in legislation.

The standards governing infant formula in the UK are far higher than those in the US. Will the Secretary of State take steps to protect our youngest citizens from the additional sugars and colourants permitted in the United States but banned here?

Any product that is sold in the UK has to be subject to the rules of the UK. Those standards are set by Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in England and Wales, and those rules will not be changed as part of any trade deal with anyone, whether the US, Australia, New Zealand or Japan.