Scottish ministers request clarity from UK Government over US trade talks

Scottish Government ministers have written to the UK Government to seek clarity over possible trade negotiations with the US after finding out about them from media reports.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon and trade minister Richard Lochhead said the Scottish Government has not been involved in any discussions about potential trade negotiations between the UK Government and US government, and found out about them through media reports.

Both ministers have written jointly to UK Environment Secretary Therese Coffey and trade minister Nigel Huddleston outlining the Scottish Government’s opposition to any relaxation of food safety and animal welfare standards.

The letter asks that Scottish Ministers are fully involved- and meaningfully engaged in UK Government’s activity in relation to trading arrangements with the United States.

Conservative Party Conference 2023
The Scottish ministers have written to UK Environment Secretary Therese Coffey about food standards (Danny Lawson/PA)

“This prospective arrangement reportedly covers topics such as digital trade, labour protections and agriculture.”

Ms Gougeon and Mr Lochhead said it was “particularly concerning” that the Scottish Government was only hearing of this now from the media and that “media reports will most certainly be of acute concern to our farming communities”.

The US is recognised as Scotland’s “number one priority market” and the letter has stated that the Scottish Government recognises the benefits to trade and investment of building relationships with the US.

Both ministers said they would be “extremely disappointed” if the UK Government had been “working on plans” to deepen the trading relationship with the US without any indication, notification or involvement of Scottish ministers.

“As already mentioned, the Scottish Government, and many of our agricultural exporters, view the United States as an important destination for our food and drink produce, but we must not forget that it is our reputation for safety and quality that makes our exports so highly sought after in the first place.”

Any “relaxing” of the opposition to hormone-treated beef, GM crops and chlorine washed chicken would be “especially egregious” the letter argued and added: “In light of consumer opposition in Scotland to the use of such treatments, we would find this completely unacceptable.

“The UK Government should not be trading away the interests of Scottish agriculture, and other sectors, in order to secure a quick deal with the US, or any country.”

The ministers called upon the UK Government to reiterate the opposition to any relaxation of food safety and animal welfare standards, adding: “The Scottish Government remains committed to engaging constructively throughout any negotiation with the United States.

“However, this engagement can be too easily undermined when questions are raised through media reporting of this kind, particularly if there is any degree of truth to the story.

“To avoid this, I ask that you and your officials now commit to involving Scottish ministers and officials fully with regard to the UK Government’s plans for improving trading conditions with the United States going forward, and so that the veracity of any media reports can be gauged without creating undue concern between our administrations.”

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