The UK will be under pressure to give up its ban on hormone-treated beef if it wants to fulfil its post-Brexit dream of joining a main trade bloc, it has emerged.
It comes as a leaked government memo from a meeting noted Canada “asked some probing questions” and highlighted this will be “important” for them in allowing Britain to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Tory ministers are eager to join the 11-nation bloc in order to make up for the trade losses of leaving the European Union, but the note from last week read: “On hormone treated beef Canada asked some probing questions and stated this will be an important issue for Canada in judging the UK’s compliance with CPTPP.”
Dropping food standards and animal welfare?
The note, obtained by Politico, added: “Canada stopped short of describing the UK as non-compliant in this area.”
Because Canada has the ability to accept or reject UK’s membership to the bloc, Labour fears the note reveals the government is “considering dropping animal welfare and food standards and allowing hormone-treated beef into UK markets”.
“The secretary of state recently stated that our standards are ‘non-negotiable.’ The government should be standing up for UK interests in the accession process to CPTPP,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow trade secretary.
And Martin Lines, chair of campaign group Nature Friendly Farming Network, warned the UK’s desire to strike new trade deals is adding pressure on accepting “low-environmental and low-animal welfare standards”.
‘Blindfolded’ over trade deals
Tory ministers have already faced accusations of a lack of transparency over the trade deals agreed after Brexit, with farmers telling TLE last June that the public is being “blindfolded” over the deals.
And although they also expressed worries that these deals will mean lower food standards, countries such as Canada and Australia, which use growth hormones in farmed animals, insist there is no scientific basis for a ban.
CPTPP countries generally allow farming practices unless they are proven to not be safe, but the EU adopts a precautionary stance, which Britain previously agreed to.
But now it is not only Canada who may put increasing pressure on the UK to shift its stance in order to help Britain repair the Brexit damage – Japan also said Britain must accept the CPTPP’s rules in order to join.
Meanwhile, a government spokesperson rejected rumours that UK standards may drop in the rush to secure non-EU trade deals.
“We have always been clear maintaining our high standards is a red line in all our trade negotiations,” the spokesperson said.
They added: “The UK will not be forced to lower our food, animal welfare or environmental standards when acceding to CPTPP, and there is absolutely nothing in the agreement which will require us to do so.”