The UK will be told to lift its ban on hormone-treated beef to achieve its post-Brexit dream of joining a key trade bloc, a leaked government memo suggests.
Ministers hope to be admitted to the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), as they seek to ease the huge trade damage from leaving the EU.
But Canada has raised the stakes by asking “probing questions” about the controversial issue of hormones in beef to boost meat production – which London has vowed will remain outlawed.
A note of a meeting of officials at the end of last week reads: “On hormone treated beef Canada asked some probing questions and stated this will be an important issue for Canada in judging the UK’s compliance with CPTPP.”
Canada has the power to veto British accession. The memo, obtained by the Politico website, adds: “Canada stopped short of describing the UK as non-compliant in this area.”
Nevertheless, Labour seized on the discussion as evidence that the government is “considering dropping animal welfare and food standards and allowing hormone-treated beef into UK markets”.
“The secretary of state recently stated that our standards are ‘non-negotiable.’ The government should be standing up for UK interests in the accession process to CPTPP,” said Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow trade secretary.
Martin Lines, chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network campaign group, warned the UK’s drive for new trade deals is increasing “the pressure to accept low-environmental and low-animal welfare standards”.
Ministers have also been accused of blocking scrutiny by MPs of proposed trade deals – downgrading a promise of a Commons debate to merely a “firm ambition”.
Countries such as Canada and Australia, which use growth hormones in farming to boost production, argue a ban has no basis in science.
Most CPTPP nations take a “hazard” approach to agricultural goods, allowing practices not proven to be unsafe, but the UK agreed, under pressure, to follow the EU in adopting a precautionary stance.
Japan, which chaired the CPTPP commission in 2021, has said the UK must accept the existing rules of the trade bloc in order to join – suggesting a showdown looms over hormone-pumped beef.
However, a government spokesperson told Politico: “We have always been clear maintaining our high standards is a red line in all our trade negotiations.
“The UK will not be forced to lower our food, animal welfare or environmental standards when acceding to CPTPP, and there is absolutely nothing in the agreement which will require us to do so.”
Ministers – facing criticism over a 15 per cent plunge in trade with the EU, since leaving the single market and customs union – hope to join the CPTPP by the end of the year.
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