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Calls for clarity on UK-USA trade partnership

Scottish ministers have written to the UK Government to raise ‘serious concerns’ over media reports about a ‘foundational trade partnership’ between the UK and US.

UK and US flags merged together

Ministers in Scotland are seeking urgent clarity from the UK Government that it will not undermine high standards of food safety and animal welfare in order to secure a trade deal with the US.

They also asked for reassurance that the Scottish Government will be fully included in the UK Government’s activities relating to trading arrangements with the US – after media reports appeared to leave ministers blindsided.

Rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said: “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.”

Mairi Gougeon and Scottish trade minister Richard Lochhead wrote an open letter to the UK Government, after media reports suggested the possibility of a ‘foundational trade partnership’ with the US, which covers topics such as digital trade, labour protections and agriculture.

“Acute concern to farmers”

‘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 ministers said.

They acknowledged the benefits of building relationships with the US and highlighted examples of the Scottish Government’s cooperation and engagement on UK free trade agreements.

With this in mind, they added: ‘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.’

Warning over compromise on standards

But it is the practical effects of such an agreement on Scottish farming and food interests which has the ministers most concerned.

Whilst the US is an important destination for our food and drink produce, it would be ‘entirely counterproductive’ to undermine Scotland’s high standards and lose market access elsewhere, in order to secure a trade deal with the US, they wrote.

‘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.’

Calls for reassurance to farmers and ministers

Based on media reports, which have created considerable concern in the farming sector, the deal appears to fall short of a free trade agreement, it could be viewed as a bridging step to one, they argued.

Ministers warned of ‘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’.

Specifically, any relaxing of the UK’s opposition to hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorine-washed chicken would be ‘completely unacceptable’.

The ministers concluded by urging the UK Government to alleviate concerns in the farming sector by reiterating its opposition to any derogation of food safety and standards and animal welfare standards. They also asked for a commitment to involve Scottish ministers and officials in its plans for trading with the US.

Responding to the letter in a statement, a UK Government spokesperson said: “The UK and US are rapidly expanding the work we do together across the full spectrum of our economic, technological, commercial and trade relations through the Atlantic Declaration. Discussions with the US on next steps under this first-of-its-kind agreement are ongoing.”

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