Sharp differences have emerged between the United States and Britain over farming standards and practices in any post-Brexit trade deal.
The trans-Atlantic allies have already begun exploratory talks on a trade agreement after Britain’s EU exit, which is scheduled for March 29. Britain, however, is resisting U.S. demands to open its markets to agricultural products currently banned under EU law.
The most widely-cited example is Europe’s import ban on American “chlorinated chicken” — carcasses that have been washed using chlorine to remove harmful bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. Europe says an over-reliance on chlorine lowers overall production and hygiene standards in poultry farming, a claim the United States disputes.
The EU has also banned the import of beef from American cattle that have been treated with artificial growth hormones. The bloc says that one commonly used hormone may cause cancer and concludes there is not enough scientific data on the other hormones to approve their use for public consumption.
Washington has made it clear any trade deal with Britain after Brexit must see these measures dropped.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, former Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, said recently that the millions of Britons visiting the United States every year enjoy perfectly safe food.
“We’d like to have that arrangement being one in which in Britain you can choose to have American chicken, American beef, or other agricultural products just as you could when you come to the United States,” he told VOA. “It is a key lynchpin of an agreement. Financial, manufacturing and agriculture has to be free and fair.”
Issa added that President Trump is committed to sealing a trade deal with Britain after Brexit, and that it could “be the next NAFTA”, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Writing in Britain’s The Telegraph newspaper Saturday, America’s ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, attacked what he called “myths” over U.S. farming and alleged they are part of a protectionist agenda.
Britain has repeatedly pledged that it will not lower food standards after Brexit. Responding to Ambassador Johnson’s comments, Britain’s international trade minister, Liam Fox, said London would hold its ground.
“Will we accept things that we believe are against the interests of our consumers or our producers? No we won’t. It’s a negotiation,” Fox told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show Sunday.
The dispute over American beef and poultry is also influencing debate over the Irish border, a key stumbling block in Britain’s attempt to secure an EU exit deal.
Britain and Europe want to avoid border checks between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, recently expressed fears that the border could open a back door into the EU.
“If at some point in the future the United Kingdom were to allow chlorinated chicken or beef with hormones into their markets, we wouldn’t want that coming into our markets or the European Union as well,” Varadkar told reporters.
The United States says a trade deal would deliver huge benefits in sectors like financial services. Britain, meanwhile, is keen to bolster its post-Brexit credentials as a global trading power.
Far away from the skyscrapers of New York or London, it is farming that could prove the biggest barrier to any agreement.