Dominic Lawson’s again waded in on the issue of trade policy, food and standards of production. Difficult to discern the thrust of his argument, but I think it is “a US trade deal is such an unarguable good, we should seek one at all costs, and don’t worry about the content”. /1
Firstly, if you want people to listen to your arguments, its good to demonstrate a “feel” for basic facts on trade. Car exports to the US are around two thirds of those to the EU? Really? More like one third… 2/
Moving on, his main argument seems to be that we can’t ask the US to observe a “level playing field” with us, because we are refusing to do so with the EU. Sure, but that is a restriction self-imposed by this government, not an immutable fact of international trade law. 3/
Maybe we should give some thought to a more flexible approach on regulatory equivalence with the EU. That could then be more consistent with our approach to other countries that asked that they observe our standards. This actually might be economically sensible. 4/
He goes on to say including production standards in trade deals would be unprecedented. Even if this were so (and it’s not, e.g. there is conditionality on egg production in the putative EU/Mercosur deal), so what? Why not seek better? Global Britain showing some leadership 5/
The current rules that underpin global trade relations begun with the GATT over 70 years ago. Global policy priorities are very different now. Animal welfare and environmental impact really should be part of trade policy in the 21st Century, shouldn't they? 6/
But of course, the real issue is how you want to rear your chickens, not whether the end product is safe: He quotes the PM approvingly as saying that trade deals will be governed by science not mumbo jumbo. This is a fair point, with which I agree. /8
But in the very same speech the PM said, “I totally understand the concerns about chlorinated chicken, because it's not a hygiene issue, it's an animal welfare issue.” And therein lies the rub – trade policy caters well for product standards, but not for production standards. /9
And no, the farming industry doesn’t fear a deal with the US, or anyone - so long as it is on fair terms. Is it fair to open any industry up to competition when you are asking them to shoulder higher costs of production than that competition through regulation? /10
If that regulation – underpinning higher standards – is deemed worthy, as I think our environmental and welfare standards are, what is the justification for not requiring equivalent standards of food wanting access to the UK market? /11
No answer here; indeed, no case is made for a coherent trade policy that benefits farming or anyone else. It briefly refers to “cheaper food” – so I’d like to know precisely which food in UK shops Mr Lawson finds so expensive that he believes needs to be significantly cheaper /12
NB – its worth remembering that the UK vies with countries like the US for top spot as having the most affordable food in the world /13
Finally, on lamb. Yes, we hope to sell more lamb to the US. Actually, the reason we haven’t is for long-standing regulatory barriers imposed by the US which amount to a ban on UK lamb. You don’t need a US trade deal to lift those. /14
But guess what – the US lamb industry has written to the Senate Finance Committee only this month demanding UK lamb be omitted from any US/UK trade deal /15
And this gets to the heart of the matter. Trade deals have winners and losers. Politicians and commentators – be honest with farmers. If UK farming is the price of the trade deal you want, just say it. /end
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