Food and DrinkGovernment

Government risk ‘watering down’ food regulations in pursuit of US trade deal

The UK could face the prospect of “watered-down” food regulations after Brexit with Parliament having little say, the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UK TPO) is warning.

Analysis by legal experts at the University of Sussex-based group, warns that stringent regulation, which currently restricts some US food produce from UK supermarket shelves, could be stripped away with minimal scrutiny through Statutory Instruments (SIs).

The UK TPO believe, the use of SIs would give a UK prime minister a “relatively” clear path to ratifying a US-UK FTA – particularly as the UK Parliament has a much weaker influence on treaty negotiations in comparison to both the US or EU.

Such a move could prove “extremely” unpopular with the UK public, 82% of the UK public favour retaining high food standards over a US trade agreement, and could damage future food trade with the EU, which accounts for around 70% of UK food exports.

This risk is most applicable in the event of no deal or in a scenario of a basic free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU. Parliament would have only limited means of opposition through blocking ratification of an FTA or specific SIs.

Emily Lydgate, senior lecturer in Environmental Law at the University of Sussex and fellow of the UK TPO, said: “In the event of no deal, or a basic EU-UK Free Trade Agreement, the UK Government will be under pressure to make a success of Brexit through new trade agreements.

“The concern is that ministers have extensive scope to make significant food safety concessions in order to reach an agreement with the US potentially in the face of opposition from consumers or food producers who would worry about losing access to the EU market.”

She added: “The US has long complained about the EU’s hazard-based approach to banning some pesticides categorically, rather than permitting their residues, and also over the lengthy EU process for approving new genetically modified crops, which the US Trade Representative (USTR) estimates costs US agriculture $2 bn/year.”

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