One of the greatest prizes from Brexit is the opportunity to make the Global Britain aspiration a reality. Included is a leadership role at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) where the UK, the fifth biggest economy in the world, could help drive much-needed progress to facilitate global trade.
Leadership, however, requires respect to back it up. In trade terms, that means walking the talk of trade liberalisation at home.
Once free of the EU, the UK knows that its thriving farming sector will therefore require access to global markets. But the trade agreements to deliver that access must be consistent with WTO rules. Recent talk of the UK adopting a tiered tariff system, based on perceptions of animal welfare and health standards, would be a direct breach of those rules.
As an EU member, the UK has previously had to pay the price for the EU blocking American beef, which is produced using growth promotants. The refusal to accept this product has no scientific basis in food safety, and so the WTO has ruled that the US is entitled to take compensatory action against the EU for a breach of its rules.
If the UK entertains the idea of a higher tariff on chicken that’s been treated with a mild chlorine wash to reduce the risk of bacteria like Campylobacter and Salmonella, which cause foodborne illness, it will put at risk so many of the longer-term benefits of leaving the EU.
A leadership role at the WTO would be lost, as the measure would breach the organisation’s rules. The World Trade Organisation would rightly see it as a protectionist measure – simply designed to allay the fears of UK chicken producers from having to compete.
New Zealand learned the hard way that protectionist measures damage industries.