UK Trade Policy & Animal Welfare

Publication Details

In the post-Brexit drive to establish the UK’s trading strategy, the nation has a chance to firm up its ambition to be a global leader in best practice in animal welfare in the agri-food sector, helping to drive up standards around the world via its trade policies. However, in the new trade deals signed to-date a concerning precedent has been set which could see British farm produce undercut by imports from countries with lower animal welfare standards.

The UK must not allow our existing high-standard animal welfare practices to be undercut by imports that have been produced in countries with lower production standards for animal welfare. That would undermine the efforts of UK farmers and food producers to improve animal welfare in the agri-food sector, and make poor animal welfare practices carried out elsewhere yet more permissible, further entrenching unacceptable treatment of animals.

The UK has some of the best farm practices for animal welfare in the world, but in the future we risk having some of the highest animal welfare standards with no one producing to them.

Key Recommendations

  • Trade liberalisation in the form of tariff and quota reductions should be linked to meeting environmental and animal welfare standards in production. Additionally, on the most important issues, the UK should seek to control imports not only on the grounds of the safety of the final product, but also on the basis of how it has been produced.
  • In order to achieve this, the UK should adopt – in collaboration with appropriate industry and civil society partners – a set of core production standards in the agri-food industry that will apply to any future trade deals and import policy more broadly. These standards should be explicitly recognised in future FTAs and the government should also seek to adopt WTO-compliant measures to control imports of products contravening the most important of these standards. Any liberalisation should be conditional on meeting such core standards.
  • FTAs should contain strong and specific wording which commits all parties to: promote cooperation on welfare standards internationally; cooperate on future research on animal welfare standards; recognise and maintain food safety standards in the country where these are strongest; and freedom to introduce labelling regimes on both home produced and imported products.
  • The UK should work towards harmonisation of animal welfare and environmental standards within trade agreements, ensuring there is no regression in standards and mutually raising such standards where appropriate. This should include provision for trade agreements to be jointly amended as animal welfare and environmental standards are improved over time.
  • The UK should seek all possible opportunities to show leadership in international forums, including the Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and Codex Alimentarius for food safety standards, to drive global agreement and recognition of high standards in food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection. This should be a clear and stated objective of UK trade diplomacy at WTO and in other international forums. Where other nations have signed up to international guidelines these can be used to assess adherence to standards. Where there is a lack of implementation through legislation, training and assistance programmes can be considered.
  • The UK should take opportunities at the WTO to promote agreement that Article XXa of the General Exceptions covers animal welfare, using the language in both Australia and New Zealand FTAs which encourages cooperation in the WTO and allows use of Article XXa in trade policy decisions.
  • The UK government should mirror the approach it has already taken with the EU through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which agrees zero-tariff, zero-quota trade on a conditional basis, and that allows such preferences to be suspended in instances where significant regulatory differences exist.
  • FTAs should include provision for the creation of forums which can facilitate the checking of production standards in importer countries