US state visit raises fears of hasty trade deal

As US president Donald Trump begins his UK state visit, farm lobby bodies NFU Cymru and the Tenant Farmers’ Association have warned of the damage hasty trade deals could cause to British agriculture.

Today, the US president will meet with Prime Minister Theresa May.

NFU Cymru president John Davies said: “Welsh farmers are producing safe, high quality and fully traceable food to some of the highest standards anywhere in the world.

“The green, grass-based story and the farm-to-fork approach adopted here in Wales delivers the strong food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards that UK consumers have come to expect and trust.

The fact is that there are some US food items – such as chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef – that would be illegal to produce here in the UK.

“This means that, given market access, US farmers could have a competitive advantage on price by using products and methods that do not comply with the standards we practise here.

“We’ve heard numerous political figures making promises on various platforms over the last few years saying our hardworking industry would not be sold down the river in an 11th-hour trade agreement.

“We need those figures to stay true to those words in the coming months. We must not see a situation arise where Welsh farming falls victim to a trade agreement that permits access for cheaper US produce that undermines the farming sector here in Wales, leaving our industry uncompetitive.

Such a scenario could put our domestic food production system at severe risk, while public trust and confidence that has taken decades to build could be decimated overnight.

“The food and farming industry here in Wales is worth £7 billion to the economy, feeds a nation, boosts the environment and underpins our thriving rural communities.

“We are stressing to the Government in the strongest terms that none of this should be jeopardised by a trade deal.”

‘British standards aren’t just for food safety’

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) chief executive, George Dunn, echoed Davies’ concerns.

“The worry is, in the rush to achieve a quick result, we will allow a breach in our standards which will not be good for consumers, the environment, animal welfare or UK agriculture,” he said.

“Much of the talk within the national media has been around the issue of food safety; however, the issues are much wider than that,” he explained.

Dunn highlighted that production standards have been imposed domestically not just for food safety but for environmental and animal welfare reasons.

Whilst these can be more difficult to protect within international trade it is not impossible. However, it will require determination on the part of the British Government to ensure that current standards are upheld and that there is legislation to apply the same standards to traded products.

If the standards we impose upon domestic food production are important to us as a country, we must also ensure that we apply those same standards on the food we import.

“To do otherwise would be duplicitous as it would support the continued use of environmental and animal welfare practices which we are trying to control. We might as well rip up our standards if we take that approach.

“A race to the bottom on standards should not be our aspiration, but if we open the floodgates to lower standard products from abroad that is exactly what we will achieve.

“The Government cannot talk about high standards on the one hand and undermine them for political expediency on the other,” added Dunn.