Did Liam Fox assure the industry over post-Brexit import standards?
19th Oct 2018 / By Alistair Driver
Trade Secretary Liam Fox attempted to reassure an AHDB export conference that the UK had no intention to allow lower standard imports into the country after we leave the EU.
In fact, he described the issue of post-Brexit food standards as ‘one of the most dishonest debates I have seen for a very long time’.
He told the conference that on Tuesday, the US trade representative formally notified Congress that they have ‘completed the preliminary work and are now ready to begin work on a free trade agreement with the UK, the first real step towards an independent trade policy’.
The letter states that any UK-EU trade deal must respect the US’ Trade Priorities and Accountability Act, which requires the ‘reducing or eliminating [of]unjustified sanitary or phytosanitary restrictions’ and ‘other unjustified technical barriers to trade’.
But Dr Fox insisted the UK would not lower its standards. “One of the key unique selling points for the UK is the high standards we have,” he said, citing a Barclays survey showing 57% of Chinese consumers would pay more for British products because of their reputation for high quality.
“We are never going to be able to compete at the low cost, low quality end of the market. Where we need to be is that high quality end,” he said.
He conveniently omitted to mention import standards in his main speech, but was challenged by AHDB chairman Sir Peter Kendall during questions on whether his comments about maintaining standards applied to imported products as well.
The Trade Secretary said the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) element of the Chequers agreement would ‘maintain regulatory alignment on that’. He added: “There are some who say that will limit your freedom to do a trade agreement and, to some extent, that is right.
“But I think you are limited by UK consumer pressure in any case because I think there is a strong move from consumers not to compromise standards. Inside, the EU market ,we have our food policy legislation which we have no plans to alter.”
He urged the audience, somewhat cryptically, not to ‘judge the Government by what it says, but by what it does’.
Summing up afterwards, Sir Peter saide Dr Fox 'nearly got there', but his answer 'wasn’t as nailed down as I would like to see' when it comes to delivering the much-needed assurances for the industry.
For more on Dr Fox's comments at the conference, see Pig World