Ministers are at war over fears that a new trade deal could allow Canada and Mexico to flood the UK with cheap beef and pork, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
As talks go down to the wire, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey is said to be pushing to limit their quotas to protect British farmers.
But Government sources close to the talks, led by Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, insist the country will not lower its food standards.
The UK is expected within days to reach an agreement in principle to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The issue of access to the UK beef and pork markets is understood to be one of the key issues still under negotiation. Talks with the 11-nation bloc – whose members also include New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Chile, Vietnam and Malaysia – have been going on since 2021.
As talks go down to the wire, Environment Secretary Therese Coffey (pictured) is said to be pushing to limit their quotas to protect British farmers
Concerns were raised initially over Canada’s bid to get Britain to drop a ban on hormone-treated beef – but UK Ministers have insisted this will not happen.
However, there has also been a push from Canada and Mexico for access to Britain’s agricultural market, specifically beef and pork.
They are understood to want the same terms as those granted to Australia and New Zealand in their own trade deals with the UK – where tariffs on beef and sheep meat will be phased out and quotas on the quantities they can send will rise in the next ten to 15 years.
But there are concerns that lower animal welfare standards in countries in the Trans-Pacific trade bloc mean members will be able to undercut UK farmers if they are allowed high quotas.
According to sources, Ms Coffey is said to be ‘fighting for the farmers’ and has made her position on access clear. Another Government insider close to the talks said: ‘We will not sign a deal that forces the UK to lower our food standards in any area whatsoever.
‘Meanwhile, joining CPTPP means 99 per cent of UK goods exports will be eligible for tariff-free trade to a market of 500 million new customers. We’re rightly told by our farmers that they have the best produce in the world – so go sell it to the world and thrive!’
The Mail on Sunday has campaigned for protections against poor-quality foreign food – and to save British farms from being put out of business by cheap imports.
National Farming Union (NFU) President Minette Batters has said that she is now ‘really wary’ of the Government’s approach to trade in wake of the deal with Australia and New Zealand.
She said that farmers were seen as an ‘inconvenience’ to UK trade policy and were ‘sacrificed’ in favour of the services sector in Britain’s first post-Brexit deals.
Former Environment Secretary George Eustice is among those who have argued that the UK’s deal with Australia is bad for farmers. As a result, Ms Batters said she was watching negotiations on the future Trans-Pacific deal like a ‘hawk’ after arguing that agriculture was sacrificed on the back of the service sector in the Australia and New Zealand trade deals.
Government sources close to the talks, led by Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch (pictured), insist the country will not lower its food standards
She said yesterday that Rishi Sunak had signalled during the leadership race that he would tread carefully when it came to trade deals. She added she hoped he would continue this approach in Government. But of previous trade deals, she said: ‘You can’t be under any illusions as to the damage already done.’
During his first attempt at becoming Prime Minister last year, Mr Sunak described the deals as a ‘one-sided’ agreement.
However, he has described the Trans-Pacific deal as a ‘fantastic’ opportunity for the country. If the UK were to join, it would account for 16 per cent of the world’s GDP.
Ms Badenoch has previously said: ‘No matter how nice the deal is, there will always be a group of people who see it as a zero-sum game, and “we’ve got something that they haven’t got”.
She added that improving the message on how trade is good for farming is ‘one of the challenges that I need to tackle and help them feel more reassured.’