Trade deal in both our interests, US adviser tells UK farmers

British farmers have nothing to fear from a trade deal between the USA and UK after Brexit, says an adviser to the Washington government.

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service adviser Steve Knight made the comments during a Deben Farm Club meeting at Ufford, Suffolk, on Thursday (22 March).

Trade was a “two-way street” and the USA wants strong trading partners – including the UK, Mr Knight told the farmers’ meeting at the Ufford Park Hotel.

The way to achieve this was to make sure any relationship was mutually beneficial, he added.

See also: Cheap food imports ‘inevitable’ post Brexit

The US and the UK are the largest investors in each other’s economies – and trade was almost perfectly balanced with goods and services worth $54bn annually flowing in each direction between the two countries.

Transatlantic trade

Of this, the UK imported £3bn of agricultural products from the USA and £1bn of agricultural products flowed back across the Atlantic in the other direction, said Mr Knight.

Products traded included wine, snack food, salmon, grain-based products such as animal feed and bread-making wheat, as well as wood pellets.

“As a standalone country, the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world and a significant trading partner,” said Mr Knight.

The USA is seeking to allay concerns that UK farmers could be exposed to food imports produced to lower standards after Brexit, Mr Knight said.

On the subject of chlorine-washed chicken, the USA was not in the game of “pushing certain products”, but it would be seeking to better communicate what it does.

Food safety

Both the USA and the UK have high food standards, said Mr Knight. “The suggestion that US food safety is not as high as the UK is wrong.”

Chlorine wash was a useful tool against issues such as campylobacter, said Mr Knight – but, ultimately, consumers will decide.

“I am sure the USA will be looking to counter some of the negative messaging – to open up the conversation – to explain why we use some technologies,” he said.

“We need to better communicate what we do.”

Lower barriers

It was also more likely that both the USA and UK will concentrate on securing quick wins that can increase existing trade, suggested Mr Knight.

If barriers can be broken down, for example, there is an opportunity for British farmers to increase exports of UK dairy products to the USA.

Equivalency agreements between the USA and the UK – which mutually recognise each other’s standards – could get rid of some of those barriers.

There are also opportunities for the UK to export more beef, added Mr Knight. “The US can’t get enough ground beef,” he said.

Dairy farmers hopeful on cheese imports

UK dairy farmers believe exports of British organic cheese to the USA will increase after Brexit – so long as they can get the paperwork signed off.

Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (Omsco) says it is continuing to push governments on both sides of the Atlantic to sign a full equivalency agreement recognising each other’s organic standards so organic cheese exports can continue after Brexit.

In 2015, Omsco became the first EU dairy business to qualify for USDA certified organic status. But the agreement was signed between the USA and the EU – not the UK – and will no longer apply after the UK leaves the European Union.

Last summer, Omsco chairman Nicholas Saphir called for urgent reassurance that exports would still be allowed post-Brexit because it took 18 months for Kingdom cheddar cheese to be produced and matured in the UK and then distributed the USA.

That trade will continue – for the time being at least – following this month’s Brexit transition agreement, which means current rules will remain in place until the end of 2020, rather than ending when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

“We are making cheese for next year,” said Mr Saphir.

The alternative to a full longer-term equivalency agreement between the USA and UK would be to secure full American organic certification, he added. Omsco had already embarked on the process and was laying down more cheese now than last year.

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