Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill and food standards.
I appreciate your strength of feeling on this issue, but I want to reassure you that the Trade Bill will not undermine food standards.
The powers within the Trade Bill cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the United States, Australia, or New Zealand. Instead, the Bill can only be used to roll-over the free trade agreements that the United Kingdom has been party to through its European Union membership.
I know that my Ministerial colleagues have no intention whatsoever of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements, as the very purpose of these agreements is to replicate as close as possible the effects of existing commitments in European Union agreements. You will be pleased to hear that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed have resulted in standards being lowered.
Although future trade agreements are outside the scope of the Trade Bill, the Government has made a clear and absolute commitment to uphold the United Kingdom’s high animal welfare, environmental, food safety and food import standards in any future free trade agreement. I know Ministers do not intend to compromise the United Kingdom’s domestic welfare production standards either.
Without exception, all animal products imported into the United Kingdom under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the European Union and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. The United Kingdom’s independent food regulators will continue making sure that all food imports into the United Kingdom comply with those high standards.
I did not support new clauses 7 and 11 as they could have significant unforeseen consequences and could well endanger existing trade.
The United Kingdom operates trade on the grounds of adherence to sanitary and phytosanitary requirements only. The United Kingdom does not require other countries who trade with us to follow our own domestic regulations, whether we trade on World Trade Organisation terms or through preferential trade agreements.
This is not a United Kingdom-specific position. Existing trade agreements in place around the world do not require partner countries to operate by another country’s domestic regulations and standards, doing so would be unprecedented. If the United Kingdom were to insist on its domestic regulations being applicable to imports then it would create new barriers to trade for our own exporters, including our own farmers. In addition, if the United Kingdom adopted such a position, it would hurt developing nations where access to United Kingdom markets is key to lifting millions out of extreme poverty.
I also do not believe that signing new clause 20 would be in the United Kingdom’s interest. The United Kingdom has already negotiated investment agreements with Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions with over 90 trading partners. Despite the United Kingdom’s participation in these agreements, there has never been a successful Investor-State Dispute Settlement claim made against the United Kingdom and nor has the threat of potential disputes affected the Government’s legislative programme. It is also important to stress that Investor-State Dispute Settlement does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanisms help to protect United Kingdom investors, both large and small, from discriminatory or unfair treatment by a state when operating abroad. A number of Investor-State Dispute Settlement cases have been brought about by United Kingdom companies and investors directly, with British jobs at stake.
The exact details of any future Freight Transport Association are a matter for formal negotiations, and I would not seek to preempt these discussions. However, where Investor-State Dispute Settlement is included in future agreements, I know the Government will seek to ensure fair outcomes of claims and high ethical standards for arbitrators, with increased transparency and efficiency of proceedings.
I hope this response has provided some clarity and reassurance, and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.