FARMING and rural groups have spoken of their hopes for the UK-US trade talks which are starting today (May 5) between International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and US trade representative Robert Lighthizer.

CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “The USA is a huge market and a Free Trade Agreement would give American consumers the ability to enjoy world-class British food produced to the very best environmental and animal welfare standards.

“Our farmers grow some of the best produce in the world. Food and drink businesses are well placed to capitalise on growing demand and new markets abroad. They should be at the heart of our future trade talks.

“However, if the US wants greater access to the UK market for its own produce, they must conform to our high standards. Allowing food produced to low animal welfare and environmental standards to undercut UK farmers is unacceptable.

“The UK Government has repeatedly issued warm words in this regard – but it must go further and legislate to protect UK farmers in all future trade deals. Maintaining food standards needs to be part of the Agriculture Bill.”

The UK Government released its negotiating objectives in March.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) welcomed the news that UK/US trade discussions are due to commence following disruptions caused by Covid-19.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA is pleased to hear these negotiations are now beginning after the concerning delay following the Covid-19 outbreak. We believe there are valuable opportunities for both our industry and the US sheep industry, in Britain, getting access for lamb and mutton into the US. The US sheepmeat market is highly underdeveloped with very low lamb consumption across the country, and I am convinced that our genetics and British lamb and mutton, very different products to those produced by most US sheep farmers, could help stimulate real interest amongst American consumers and in turn help US sheep farmers see some growth.

“For us, access into the US could create demand for those high-value cuts, particularly sheepmeat with provenance and a story simply because of the close connections between our countries and the huge interest in our culture and heritage – an aspect which sheep farming is steeped in.”

The NSA is clear that market access to the EU is a priority but is enthusiastic to expand and build stronger connections further afield. Mr Stocker said: “We don’t see this as an alternative to the EU market, but it would be a positive trade that would complement both our exports and our domestic market. This is particularly prudent at current as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has shown how reliant our industry is on the catering and hospitality market and I could see future US demand for British lamb and mutton coming in alongside our own catering markets, all of which help to balance carcase demand and optimise value across the entire sheepmeat product range.”

The NSA has previously expressed concerns about the quality of standards UK producers expect importers to meet and NSA is pleased to hear the Government’s commitment to protect these. Mr Stocker adds: “We welcome statements from Ministers and Government officials that in terms of reciprocal trade our standards will be protected, and while as a general statement the Government is enthusiastic about free and open trade it does recognise that agriculture and food, like the NHS, is an industry that requires a level of protection and I do expect the commitments not to undermine our unique approach to farming, food, and the environment to be upheld.”

“I wish the Secretary of State and Ministers well in their trade talks and hope that progress is made swiftly and amicably.”