The US government has revived Trump-era demands for “equitable access” to the British market for its food and farm exports ahead of any possible free trade deal with the UK.
The call came from US Department of Agriculture deputy secretary Jewel Bronaugh, who last week brought 37 food business and farm organisation representatives to the UK on a trade visit.
“We can get high-quality, safe and affordable food and agri product to the UK,” Bronaugh said during a post-trip press conference. She urged British officials and the nation’s food industry to “be forward-thinking” when it came to US-sourced goods, which she claimed were “the safest in the world”.
The US mission met British environment secretary George Eustice, Bronaugh said, with the minister said to have told the visiting Americans he hoped the government’s Genetic technology Bill would be passed by parliament this year – potentially moving the UK closer to US GM food norms.
For now the UK was still “utilising some of the old practices of the EU” when it came to food and farming, Bronaugh said. She added the recent trade mission aimed in part to encourage the British to utilise “science-based and data-driven decision making” when it comes to food and agriculture.
There had been “some potential points of discussion in terms of efforts to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers in the UK”, Bronaugh added.
During the visit, which ran from June 22-24, Bronaugh posted on Twitter that her meeting with Eustice included discussions on “the need to overcome UK misperceptions about the quality and safety of US food and farm products”.
She also posted that she had told UK officials of “the need for US agriculture to have full and meaningful access to the UK market”.
The US recently ended long-standing bans on British beef and lamb that were imposed after the BSE crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s in the UK, while British cheese brands have been targeting the vast US market, with some success, according to levy board AHDB and exporter Somerdale International,
The US’s mission was “to continue to set the stage for removing barriers to trade”, which would be “ahead of the signing of a free trade agreement”, which both sides “see benefits in”, Bronaugh said.
The UK has already signed free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand – both major food exporters – since leaving the EU. Talks have also started with several other countries, including India and Canada.
But after fierce opposition from the UK food sector during ultimately fruitless free trade talks during the Trump administration, the Biden presidency has so far declined to commit to substantive new trade deal talks with the UK – which it has said are contingent on the UK adhering to its post-Brexit deal with the EU and in particular the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Australia deal has been criticised by British farmers’ groups for potentially leading to undercutting of UK agriculture. The government, which has also been accused of trying to rush ratification of the deal, has proposed cutting tariffs on imports of food the UK does not produce, such as bananas and oranges, from countries the UK does not have free trade deals with, which includes the US.
The proposals, which prime minister Boris Johnson said came amid wider discussions of food trade barriers during this week’s G7 and NATO summits, were aimed at slowing global surges in food inflation. However, he did not mention non-tariff barriers – which include divergences between countries on rules of origin, animal welfare and labour rights, among others.
Bronaugh said last week’s trade mission showed the UK and US displayed “a willingness to discuss some of our differences” around some of transatlantic non-tariff barriers, such as animal welfare, though others, such as differing rules around food additives, poultry sanitisation and the use of antibiotics in food production were not discussed, she said.
“They have a different policy and different way of dealing with animal welfare”, Bronaugh noted. “We stand firmly by out animal welfare policies,” which were based on the maxim that “healthy animals are profitable”, she said.
Bronaugh said the US businesses on the trip, which included soybean growers, brewers and seafood processors, held what amounted to 200 meetings with over 40 UK counterparts, with some projected potential deals and sales announcements likely within two weeks.
The meetings came two months after trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan met US trade representative Katherine Tai in Aberdeen for wide-ranging trade talks. Among the attendees were Beam Suntory and the Food & Drink Federation, as well as the likes of Google, IBM, Morgan Stanley and trade unions and chambers of commerce from both sides of the Atlantic.
Almost $2bn worth of American food and farm exports were sent to the UK last year, according to the USDA.