Over the last few days I have had conversations with Parliamentary colleagues and Ministers about whether to support Amendment NC2 to the Agriculture Bill, which would have required the Government to make a presentation to Parliament that any international trade deal would not allow imports that fall below the UK’s high animal and environmental standards.
I have long made clear my opposition to low animal welfare imports, and this was a commitment of the Conservative election manifesto. It would be bad for animals and bad for farmers to be undercut by overseas competitors who cut costs by reducing standards. It would, in effect, be importing animal cruelty.
However, whilst I support its overall objective I did not support the amendment in tonight’s vote for three reasons:
- First, I am supportive of the social, economic and environmental terms outlined in what should remain a domestic agriculture bill – amending such a bill to include legislation on international trade would be out of context of wider trade considerations. There is an international trade bill coming up where such considerations would be more appropriate.
- Second, the Department of Trade is embarking on a range of international negotiations and, not unreasonably, does not want to start the process with a number of red lines imposed on it by Parliament. There is an argument that if one interest gets traction through Parliament then so should others, which would undermine the chance of a trade deal. I also share the concerns of others that we would be imposing a double standard – requiring, for example, the EU must abide by our standards but refusing to comply with theirs.
- Finally, I am reassured that many MPs representing farming constituencies and indeed the Ministerial team at DEFRA are strongly committed to animal welfare both as a critical thing in itself, but so that we don’t open the door to low animal welfare standards that would undercut farmers, and are actively looking at ways to achieve that. I will continue to press on this issue over the forthcoming months.
The Government has also published its negotiating objectives for talks with the United States, and these explicitly refer to protecting our environmental and agricultural standards, as outlined below.
Throughout the agreement, to ensure high standards and protections for UK consumers and workers and build on our existing international obligations. This will include not compromising on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.
The full text of the negotiating objectives can be accessed here.