UK Government must not sacrifice agri-food sector in favour of US deal, warns Swann

UUP Leader Robin Swann
UUP Leader Robin Swann

Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Robin Swann MLA, has said the UK Government mustn’t be allowed to sacrifice its farmers and their produce in a rush to secure a trade deal with the US.

He was commenting after Tuesday’s publication of a report by the International Trade Committee at Parliament which starkly highlighted the risk of an ‘agriculture for services’ trade-off in a future free trade agreement between the UK and United States.

Mr Swann said: “I absolutely agree that it makes sense for the UK Government to go out there and aggressively identify and secure new export markets after Brexit.

“In fact having the freedom to go out and even talk about trade deals, away from the restrictions of the European Union, are one of the reasons why people in the end opted for voting to leave.

“Whilst I appreciate that any new trade deals, no matter who they are between, will require a degree of compromise, I am growing concerned at some of the language being used between the UK and the US.

“First of all we had the chlorinated chicken charade when Liam Fox claimed that lowering UK food standards to allow the import of cheaper chicken from the US was an insignificant detail. Now we’ve got a major Parliamentary report explicitly warning that one of the compromises in any future UK-US trade deal could be an ‘agriculture for services’ trade-off, where shielding the UK’s large financial services sector would be given absolute priority over protecting local produce.

“As standards in food production in the US are lower than they are here in the UK, there is a real danger that we could then also end up with significantly less access to the European market, given that Brussels has always maintained access must come with complete adherence to existing rules and standards.

“In any case I see the quality, traceability and overall standard of UK produce to be one of our greatest assets in any future trade deal so I’d hope they will be maintained rather than weakened.

“Yet I fear, in the rush to secure a positive news story and their willingness to show how quickly it can work to secure new deals, there is a real danger that farmers could end up being sacrificed. I’d urge the UK Government to tread carefully, decisions taken now simply cannot be undone overnight again.

“A good trade deal and supporting farmers do not have to be mutually exclusive, in fact I think they could and should go together quite well.”