Australian food and drink exporters not required to meet UK standards in new trade deal

30 September 2022, Ciaran Donaghy

CIEH has expressed concern that the UK Government is entering into Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) which will result in lowering food standards in the UK, potentially placing consumers at risk.

Following closer examination of the recent FTA with Australia, the International Trade Committee has concluded that Australian food and drink exporters will not be required to meet UK core food production standards.

With UK farmers bound by high food and environmental standards, the confirmation that Australian food products will not be subject to the same standards highlights a real fear that they will be significantly undercut and unable to compete with cheaper produce entering the market from Australia.

There is also the potential public health risk of lower quality food flooding the UK market.

Widespread concern already surrounds the UK Government’s recently tabled Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill with many fearing it will result in a weakening in regulatory frameworks vital in ensuring robust environmental health standards.

Previous Secretary of States for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove MP, Theresa Villiers MP, and George Eustice MP, had repeatedly asserted the UK Government’s firm commitment to maintaining the UK’s high food and environmental standards in any circumstance.

CIEH is urging the Government to prioritise maintaining our high food and environmental standards when entering future FTAs.

Ross Matthewman, Head of Policy and Campaigns for the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said:

“Despite consistent assurances from a string of Environmental Secretaries to the contrary, it appears that our concerns that food and animal welfare standards would be threatened in the pursuit of trade deals have been realised.

The recent report from the International Trade Committee is yet another concerning confirmation that this government is embarking upon a course of action that will see the weakening of vital regulatory frameworks designed to maintain good public health.

We have already expressed our concern that the recently tabled Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is a regressive deregulatory step that threatens public health and are concerned that as the government embarks upon future free-trade agreements, we will continue to see regulatory standards weakened.

There are also serious questions about how importing cheaper food from the other side of the world impacts on the UK’s food security or sustainability, or how it helps the Government meet its wider environmental pledges or commitment to achieving net-zero.

We would urge the government to change course, to recognise the vital importance regulatory frameworks play in maintaining high standards of public health and would stress that the weakening of these standards in pursuit of free trade deals is not a price worth paying”

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