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US pork industry spells out its position on future UK-US trade deal

8th Nov 2018 / By Alistair Driver

The US pork industry has made its stance clear on a future trade deal with a post-Brexit UK. 

NPPC logoIn a recent statement, the National Pork Producers Council, which represents 60,000 US pig farmers, welcomed an announcement by the Trump administration that it wants to negotiate trade agreements with the EU, Japan and the UK. The NPPC commended the administration for its 'ambitious trade agenda'. 

The council made it clear it was supportive of trade negotiations with the UK - 'provided that the UK is willing to eliminate all non-tariff barriers and embrace UN food-safety standards and other international standards'.

As if further clarity were needed, its president Jim Heimerl added: “NPPC will not support a deal with the UK unless it agrees to equivalence, meaning that all USDA-approved pork and pork products must be eligible for export to the UK without additional requirements."

Mr Heimerl went on to stress that, while the US is happy to do business with the UK, it is 'skeptical about EU intentions'. “The EU has played the United States like a drum in the past,” he said. “This must stop. We expect the Trump administration to require the EU to eliminate all tariff and non-tariff barriers to US pork so we can export with no additional requirements.”

Mr Heimerl's comments echo the sentiments of the US administration. In mid-October US trade representative, Robert E Lighthizer formally notified Congress that the preliminary work on a future US-UK trade deal was complete. The letter stated that any UK-US trade deal must respect the US’s Trade Priorities and Accountability Act, which requires the ‘reducing or eliminating of unjustified sanitary or phytosanitary restrictions’ and ‘other unjustified technical barriers to trade’.

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Ministerial assurances

All of this adds some much-needed context to the recent assurances delivered by Defra Ministers Michael Gove and George Eustice and Trade and Industry Secretary Liam Fox that the UK will not compromise its production standards in pursuit of future trade deals. 

Liam Fox AHDB1Speaking at an AHDB export conference, Dr Fox described it as a 'bogus question'. He said the SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) element of the Chequers agreement would ‘maintain regulatory alignment’ with the EU on standards, while UK consumer pressure would ‘limit’ any moves to import such products. 

Mr Eustice delivered even stronger assurances when he addressed a reception of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Eggs, Pigs and Poultry in the House of Commons

"I could not be clearer that we will not water down our standards on animal and animal welfare in pursuit of a trade deal," he said, adding that any future trade deal would have to come before Parliament, which ‘has the ability to block and veto trade deals if necessary’.

Mr Gove has expressed similar sentiments but, while their words are welcome, they have so far fallen short of the legally-binding commitments the industry is seeking that would ensure future trade agreements must stipulate that imports produced to lower standards are not permitted. 

As the Agriculture Bill continues to make its way through the committee stage in the Commons, the Government has come under pressure to incorporate this into the Bill. Mr Eustice has deflected the issue so far by suggesting this should come under the remit of the Trade Bill instead.

Others disagree, including Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, a member of the Bill Committee, who said she would be tabling an amendment ‘to get this enshrined in law’. 

Despite the warm words, it is easy to see why the Government might be reluctant to enshire such a requirement in law given the entrenched position of the US Government and industry on production standards.

If we are to secure a trade deal with the US that includes agricultural products, a clear ambition of the UK Government, something is going to have to give. That much is clear.