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Concerns over possible UK-USA trade partnership

Scottish Ministers press UK Government for urgent clarity.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon and Trade Minister Richard Lochhead have written jointly to the UK Government to voice the Scottish Government’s concern about the possibility of the UK Government negotiating a ‘foundational trade partnership’ with the United States of America, as reported recently in the media.

The letter clearly reiterates the Scottish Government’s opposition to any derogation of food safety and animal welfare standards, and asks that Scottish Ministers are fully involved – and meaningfully engaged in UK Government’s activity in relation to trading arrangements with the United States.

Ms Gougeon commented: “The interests of Scottish agriculture, and other sectors, must not be traded away in order to secure a quick deal with the US, or any country.”

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Thérèse and Nigel,

We are writing to highlight the Scottish Government’s serious concerns about recent media reports of the possibility of the UK Government negotiating a ‘foundational trade partnership’ with the United States of America. This prospective arrangement reportedly covers topics such as digital trade, labour protections and agriculture. It is particularly concerning that we are only hearing of this now from the media, and while the implications of this arrangement are not yet clear, the media reports will most certainly be of acute concern to our farming communities and so we have decided to write to you jointly about this issue.

The Scottish Government recognises the benefits to trade and investment of building relationships with United States and this is reflected in Scotland’s Vision for Trade, as well as our plan for growing Scotland’s exports, A Trading Nation, where the US is identified as Scotland’s number one priority market. As a result, we have made clear the value we see in the Department for Business and Trade’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) programme with US States, and we have engaged constructively so that Scotland might maximise any benefits that these state-level agreements offer. For example, the UK and Washington State MoU on trade cooperation, innovation, and clean energy, which the Minister for International Trade recently shared with us, is the most recent illustration of this close working relationship that our governments have worked hard to establish.

Given this close cooperation on US MoUs, along with our proven track record of engaging meaningfully and securely across the suite of UK free trade agreements, we would be extremely disappointed if it transpired that the UK Government had been working on plans to deepen the trading relationship with the United States without any indication, advance notification, nor involvement of Scottish Ministers, leaving us to learn of this purported development through the media.

However, it is the potential practical effects of such an arrangement on Scottish farming and food interests which concern us the most. As already mentioned, the Scottish Government, and many of our agricultural exporters, view the United States as an important destination for our food and drink produce, but we must not forget that it is our reputation for safety and quality that makes our exports so highly sought after in the first place. It would be entirely counterproductive if we were to undermine these high standards and lose market access elsewhere as the price to secure a trade deal with the United States. More specifically, we have concerns around any potential impact this may have on vital UK-EU trade, and potential increased cost for business directly and through increased scrutiny from our EU partners.

While, from media reporting, this deal appears to fall short of a Free Trade Agreement it could be viewed as a bridging step towards one. Working towards a quick deal, and in light of the well-known domestic agriculture policy in the United States, could lead to significant changes to consumer protections, production standards and the profitability of our vital agricultural sector if any trade deal enables US agri-food imports produced to lower standards to be imported into the UK. Language such as ‘science-based’ approaches or ‘equivalent’ standards is particularly concerning in light of the US use of such terms in other trade agreements; it would not allow us to protect our valued reputation for a clean and biosecure environment for agrifood products.

Specifically, any relaxing of our opposition to hormone treated beef, GM crops and chlorine washed chicken would be especially egregious when the red meat sector in particular is already facing substantial threat from the trade arrangements reached with Australia and New Zealand and in light of consumer opposition in Scotland to the use of such treatments. We would find this completely unacceptable. The UK Government should not be trading away the interests of Scottish agriculture, and other sectors, in order to secure a quick deal with the US, or any country.\

If the Prime Minister’s commitment made to farmers earlier this year is to be honoured, we would not expect to see any concessions like this in agriculture.

While we are well aware that the UK Government has a policy of not commenting on leaks to the media, it is important to recognise that the content of those reports have nonetheless already created considerable concern in the agricultural sector. We therefore suggest that you alleviate those concerns by clearly reiterating your government’s opposition to any derogation of food safety and standards and animal welfare standards.

The Scottish Government remains committed to engaging constructively throughout any negotiation with the United States, and will continue to do so with regards the MoU programme. However, this engagement can be too easily undermined when questions are raised through media reporting of this kind, particularly if there is any degree of truth to the story. To avoid this, I ask that you and your officials now commit to involving Scottish Ministers and officials fully with regard to the UK Government’s plans for improving trading conditions with the United States going forward, and so that the veracity of any media reports can be gauged without creating undue concern between our administrations.

It is vital that we receive an early response to this letter and so look forward to receiving clarity from you about this issue as soon as possible.

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