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NPA blog - Eyeing up future opportunities in the US

14th May 2021 / By Charlie Dewhirst

Charlie Dewhirst discusses the potential opportunities for UK pork in the US, following a US trade event that he chaired this week.

Charlie DewhirstOn Wednesday, the Department for International Trade (DIT) hosted an event on our future trading relationship with the US and I was delighted to chair a session on the opportunities for pork exports.

We heard from DIT officials based in the US and AHDB about their strategy to gain greater market access for British produce as an independent trading nation outside the EU.

While the US is an enormous producer of pigmeat, British exporters have made a success of selling high welfare pork across the Atlantic.

This trade was worth was £38 million in 2018 before the Airbus-Boeing dispute saw the US impose retaliatory tariffs of 25% on pork the following year. While pork shipments to the US haven't stopped entirely in the intervening months, the trade was badly hit by the added costs incurred.

In March this year, the UK successfully negotiated a four-month suspension of these tariffs and gave renewed hope to exporters. The Secretary of State Liz Truss made it clear to us at the meeting this week that a permanent solution looks promising before the tariff suspension expires in July, which could then pave the way for talks on a comprehensive trade agreement between the two nations.

The media greatly enjoy talking up the threat to the UK of a trade deal with the US, ever keen to remind to us of the evils of 'chlorinated chicken'.

However, when it comes to pork, there are potentially some very lucrative opportunities for export. For example, California has introduced welfare legislation so stringent that only 1% of US pig producers are now able to sell into the state.

Given Californians eat approximately 15% of all pork products consumed in the country, there is a very big gap to fill and many British farmers already meet the required standards to export there.

Massachusetts is following California’s lead and other states are expected to follow in due course, although don’t expect the big pig producing states like Iowa, Minnesota or North Carolina to be joining them any time soon!

There are legal challenges from the US pig industry already underway and the result of these will confirm the direction of travel. Whatever the result, it seems likely that the market for imported meat produced to the highest welfare standards will continue to expand, which can only be good news for British exporters.

The flipside to our future trading relationship is, of course, what access US pork may gain to the UK market.

The Government’s ‘Action Plan for Animal Welfare’, published this week following the Queen’s Speech, states clearly that our animal welfare standards will not be compromised in any trade negotiations and this should give us a degree of protection against cheap imports from the US. Negotiations between the UK and US are at an early stage and we will be keeping a very close eye on them, working with Defra and DIT to protect our industry.

In the coming weeks, we should see the details of trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand and this will give us the first real insight into how much market access for meat, in this case lamb, the UK is willing to give. It will be pivotal in setting the tone for negotiations with the US