— A cross-party group of dozens of MPs and peers want Trade Secretary Liz Truss’s assurance trade deals will safeguard British food standards.

— Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a U.K.-Australia trade deal should allow free movement by the end of the year.

— Labor unions, NGOs warn Trade Secretary Liz Truss their exclusion from consultation on trade deals could harm the U.K.

Chicken Wings Glen Waverley

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AGRICULTURAL ASSURANCES: A cross-party group of dozens of MPs and peers are seeking assurance from Trade Secretary Liz Truss that British food standards will be protected by the government in trade deals in the coming weeks.

The group of 56 Tory, Labour, Scottish National Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Liberal Democrat, and Green politicians have signed a letter to Truss and Environment Secretary George Eustice prepared by the consumer advocacy group Which? “We are calling on the government to confirm that it will uphold food standards by maintaining the bans on chicken treated with chlorine and beef injected with hormones, and that it will not, at any stage, ask this parliament to remove these bans from the statute books,” the letter reads.

Laying down the law: Their call comes ahead of the Trade Bill’s second reading in the House of Lords next Tuesday and the report stage of the Agriculture Bill due in the Lord’s later this month. In July, the government shot down amendments that would have seen food standards enshrined in the Trade Bill. Trade negotiations between the U.K. and the U.S. are kicking off as early as next week and the Americans have pushed hard to get access to the British market for their agriculture products.

“Chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef are illegal in the U.K.,” the government explained when it launched the Trade and Agriculture Commission in July. “Any changes would need to be approved by parliament,” it said, adding that it “will not compromise U.K. high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards.” Maintaining British food standards ranked as a top concern among the public — especially in the U.S. trade deal — in a large Department for International Trade (DIT) public survey published in August.

A little less conversation: Yet the group of politicians and the consumer advocacy group are looking for less talk and more action from the government in the bills before parliament. “We got our legal experts to look at it, and their view is these bans could be dropped using secondary legislation,” a spokesperson for Which? told Morning Trade UK, adding that the legal method doesn’t require a parliamentary vote. “This interpretation is backed up by other experts,” they added, citing research by the Institute for Government think tank.

Looking to commit: “The government has so far managed to avoid attempts to put their food standards commitments into law through either bill by reassuring MPs that inferior products are banned, and any changes to that would have to go through parliament,” they said. Which? pointed out that Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands did not commit to keeping bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef on the statute book during debate of the Trade Bill in July. Although consumers will have a choice about whether to buy American animal products from store shelves, the products could also find their way into ready meals, school dinners, and hospital food.

THE NON-ANNOUNCEMENT TOUR: Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday deflected questions about his role on the U.K.’s Board of Trade and said he hopes there is free movement between Britain and Australia by the end of the year.

Playing coy: “I can’t comment on any position which is not yet official, but certainly I think that it’s in Britain’s interest and it’s in Australia’s interests that this particular free-trade deal will be done as quickly as possible,” Abbott said of ongoing trade negotiations between the two governments. Abbott spoke on the issue during a morning webinar with the think tank Policy Exchange.

Reports and government officials indicate he has been tapped to sit on the U.K. Board of Trade, which plays an advisory role in growing British imports and exports. “Yes, I’ve had some discussions with members of the British government,” Abbott said, under questioning from MPs on the foreign affairs committee later in the day, referring further questions to government ministers because “it’s something that is not yet official.”

Australian-style: Abbott told the MPs that he advised Australian trade negotiators not to “get bogged down in a whole lot of technicalities” in trade talks. British and Australian negotiators are set to hold their second round of talks in mid-September where the two sides will make their initial market access offers. Offers on the services sectors have been reserved for later rounds.

“There is an eagerness to try to get this deal done well before the end of the year,” Abbott told Policy Exchange. At the end of the next four months, he added, he would like to see the deal sealed and the “free movement of people for work not welfare” between the two countries, subject to a “generous quota.” The deal should also focus on “mutual recognition of standards and qualifications” and be entirely free of quotas and tariffs on goods, he said.

Bring out the acronyms: Abbott told MPs that “Global Britain” should look to forge ties with select Commonwealth nations in a Canada, Australia, New Zealand alliance with the U.K. known as CANUK and “convert that family feeling into the most advantageous arrangement.” He also welcomed Britain’s efforts to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) “a great boon to the wider world” as it would be a “contribution to global stability.”

EXPERT TRADE ADVISER ANGST: Labor unions, NGOs and other public interest groups have warned Truss their exclusion from consultation on trade deals could harm the U.K. Last week Morning Trade UK reported the Expert Trade Advisory Groups (ETAGs) they sat on were dissolved.

A voice for civil society and labor: “We are very disappointed and concerned to learn that the government is standing down its sectoral ETAGs and ending thematic ETAGs as formal entities, with unclear commitments for future meeting arrangements,” the groups wrote to Truss in a letter. Signatories include the Greener UK coalition — a group of 13 environmental groups including the National Trust, Greenpeace, and WWF — the public service union UNISON, Trade Justice Movement, and chemical safety group CHEM Trust.

Talk the talk: The groups called for a meeting with Truss to discuss the issue. “Reducing input for civil society raises the concern that the government is not taking seriously the implications of trade for the environment, international development, workers’ rights and social welfare,” the groups said, calling consultation the “underpinning of good international trade policy.”

Getting the public on-side: Consulting groups like theirs, they argue, would give trade negotiations broad public support and “allow for the U.K. to come to the negotiating table with clear objectives and would project confidence to prospective trading partners.”

Last week the government replaced some of the groups, such as the chemicals and automotive ETAGs, with 11 new Trade Advisory Groups (TAGs) populated by British business representatives. The government said it will continue to seek the advice of some public interest groups “at relevant times.”

FISHY BUSINESS: The European Union is refusing to discuss British proposals on a future fisheries treaty because of its insistence on agreeing on every issue at once, according to the U.K. “The EU continues to insist that we must agree on difficult areas in the negotiations such as state aid before any further work can be done on any area of the negotiations. That makes it very difficult to make progress,” the Downing Street official spokesperson told journalists on Tuesday.

Background: Fisheries is one of the most politically sensitive issues for the EU. Brussels is pushing to maintain current quotas and access rights because the EU’s fishing communities are highly dependent on access to the waters around Britain. The U.K., on the other hand, has turned the issue into one of national sovereignty, saying it will decide who can fish — and how much they can catch — in its territorial waters.

MEETING THE MARK: The U.K. has decided to allow goods stamped with the EU’s CE certification mark to continue being stocked on store shelves until as late as 2022 if standards for the goods remain the same in Britain. The CE mark on products shows they comply with the European Economic Area’s health, safety, and environmental protection standards.

Time to adjust: In guidance published on Tuesday, the U.K. said in some cases it would allow the goods on store shelves until 2022 to give “businesses time to adjust” under the condition that “EU and U.K. requirements remain the same.”

But Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, argued the CE mark could be around longer. It may be “allowed indefinitely” on store shelves in the U.K., he said, as the rules on the Irish border mean CE marked goods will flow into “Northern Ireland indefinitely.”

Britain’s new UKCA certification mark will roll out on the first of January 2021 for the majority of goods.

ARMS EXPORTS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: This afternoon MPs are examining the role defense equipment and services exports play in the British economy in a special one-off session of the international trade committee.

Making their case: Defense firms like BAE Systems and ADS Group will make their case alongside advocacy groups like the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) as elected representatives mull the “importance of defense-related trade to the U.K. economy” as well as “how ethical concerns are accounted for in the sale of arms.”

A challenge to trade: Research coordinator at CAAT Sam Perlo-Freeman told Morning Trade UK that he will be “challenging the notion that the U.K. has one of the most ‘rigorous’ and ‘robust’ arms export control systems in the world.” Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest buyer of British arms. The export of fighter jets, bombs, and missiles to the regime, Perlo-Freeman said, has a direct impact on the Saudi war with Yemen. UNICEF marks the war in Yemen as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Getting transparent: Perlo-Freeman plans to call for more transparency in weapons, defense, and security exports, which he said are approved through an “opaque license type” known as an “open license” that does not require publication of export totals. “The government should collect and publish figures on the actual use of all arms licenses, standard and open, so that we can actually know the true level of U.K. arms exports,” he said, pointing out this information is available in the U.S. and a majority of EU countries.

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