57.During its trade deal negotiations with the EU, the UK had sought an “equivalence mechanism for SPS measures … to determine and manage equivalence over time” as well as “reciprocal equivalence in certain commodities, reflecting UK-EU trade flows”, adding that these provisions on equivalence “should be based on recent EU free trade agreements, such as the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the EU-NZ Veterinary Agreement”, so allowing “reduced levels of checks at the border” and “simplified certification”. However, as set out in Chapter 2, the TCA provided “very little” in regard to reducing the burden of additional trade friction, bureaucracy or the level of controls that would be required, according to the BVA.
58.The NFU said that the UK was “unique … in the sense that we are trading with our closest neighbours in high value perishable fresh products and at least for the time being remains aligned in practice with EU rules” and called for the UK to “continue negotiations with the EU to simplify and streamline border procedures”. The International Meat Trade Association said that the Government “needs to aim to improve the agreement reached and should seek a veterinary equivalence agreement with the EU” in order to reduce the level of physical checks and to simplify the certification process. Several witnesses concurred and put forward a number of proposals:
59.On 11 March, the Government said that it “continue[d] to be interested” in discussions on an equivalence mechanism covering agri-foods “if the EU is open to them” although it would not agree to arrangements based on dynamic alignment “as this could compromise our future SPS rules and our trade agreements”. The Secretary of State said that “it is very important that we try to get back into a sensible bilateral relationship” and the Government “very much look forward to seeing a return to normal relations” with the EU. However, Mr Eustice cautioned that the prevailing circumstances were not conducive to negotiations, highlighting the fact that “everyone is very preoccupied with the huge coronavirus pandemic and all the challenges that creates”. In addition, he added that “given some of the tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU currently is not in the right kind of space to want to have such a dialogue” on a veterinary partnership agreement. However, he said “it is absolutely possible that there will be a thawing in relations”.
60.Shane Brennan cautioned that the delayed introduction of import controls and checks had “basically given the EU no incentive, in terms of the potential pain to its exporters bringing stuff into the UK, to get round the table and look at facilitations and easements for the UK food going the other way”. Under the TCA, as the BVA explained, there is provision for a UK-EU “SPS specialised committee” to “discuss the operation of SPS arrangements and potentially seek further facilitations without compromising biosecurity”. The BVA added that “it is imperative that the UK government engages with industry and the veterinary profession to understand their practical experience of meeting the demands of exporting SPS goods and to work together to identify potential solutions to bring to the specialised committee”. The Secretary of State told us that “it is only once it is ratified that the specialised SPS committee would be set up to deal with these sorts of disputes”.
61.As this Report highlights, the TCA has introduced considerable trade friction for seafood and meat exporters. We welcome the Government’s willingness to engage with the EU to seek an equivalence mechanism on agri-foods. The Government should engage with the EU and adopt a pragmatic stance in the pursuit of a veterinary partnership agreement that reduces the non-tariff measures adversely affecting British seafood and meat exporters. In the meantime, the Government should take steps to ensure that the UK-EU SPS Specialised Committee can begin meeting as a matter of priority to help resolve the issues currently facing seafood and meat exporters. If ratification of the TCA is further delayed, the Government should urgently explore options to set it up prior to ratification.
200 HM Government, The Future Relationship with the EU: The UK’s Approach to Negotiations, , February 2020, p 9
201 British Veterinary Association () para 7
202 National Farmers’ Union () para 26
203 International Meat Trade Association () para 8
204 Quality Meat Scotland ()
205 NFU Scotland () para 3
206 National Sheep Association ()
207 British Meat Processors Association ()
214 British Veterinary Association () para 8