The UK is set to come under renewed pressure to open its post-Brexit beef market to more imports from the US, following an announcement on Monday (3 September) by the European Commission that it will renegotiate its own import quotas for US beef.
Britain has identified the US as a key target for a free trade deal once the UK leaves the EU. American ranchers are expected to put pressure on the Trump administration to push for improved access to UK beef markets as part of those talks, and they will be encouraged by Monday’s promise of better access to the EU.
At present, US beef exports to Europe are limited by a 45,000-tonne quota for grain-fed, hormone-free beef. The quota was created in 2009 as part of the settlement of a long-running World Trade Organisation dispute over the EU’s continuing ban on hormones in beef.
The quota is not exclusive to the US, however, and in recent years Australia and South American countries have taken a growing share of the quota. Now the commission has promised to open talks on reserving a share of this quota specifically for the US.
This could encourage more US cattle producers to produce hormone-free beef, which represents a small specialist niche within the US beef sector. Also, US exporters will view the UK – which will be out of the EU by March 2019 – as a promising additional market.
The commission has promised to maintain its insistence that all imported beef must be hormone-free, and the UK is expected to do likewise.
The EU and UK have provisionally agreed that Britain will in effect remain covered by the provisions of EU trade agreements until the end of 2020 – although this agreement would be null and void if Britain were to leave the EU next March without an overall deal in place.