British farmers closer to accessing £60m beef and lamb markets

British beef and lamb farmers are a step closer to a £60 million a year export boost, following further talks between the UK and the USA to negotiate a deal to access the lucrative American market, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said today.

Visiting the US as part of a worldwide Food is GREAT campaign to champion British food and drink, the Environment Secretary met with her American counterpart, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in Washington to discuss next steps in securing access to the US market.

The UK submitted a 1,000 page dossier last week to the US Department of Agriculture, detailing the safety and quality of British beef and lamb. Secretary Vilsack committed to study the paperwork rapidly ahead of agreeing a timetable for inspections of UK beef and lamb plants.

The approval of British plants would be a major breakthrough in recognising the quality and safety of European meat, allowing farmers to start exporting British beef to the United States’ 300 million consumers for the first time since restrictions on beef imports from the EU were lifted in 2014. The restrictions on lamb are expected to be lifted in early 2017.

Speaking after her meeting today, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said, “I want to see British burgers, steaks and lamb chops on American tables. Today’s positive talks mean our farmers are a step closer to providing their world class beef and lamb to 300 million Americans. We already export nearly £2 billion of food and drink to the USA every year, but we want to grow our exports even further and give our businesses more opportunities. These negotiations take a long time to conclude and require a great deal of effort and paperwork, which is why it is dangerous to take for granted the access we already have to the European market of 500 million people. Our EU membership gives our beef and lamb farmers easy and tariff-free trade that was worth £600million last year. With 40 per cent of all the lamb we produce going to Europe, losing our full access to the single market would have severe consequences for British farmers.”

Currently the EU is by far the biggest market for British beef and lamb, with exports of beef to the EU worth £316m and lamb and mutton worth £291m in 2015. The French bought nearly £160m of British lamb and mutton last year, and we sold £109m of British beef to Ireland. All other non-EU countries currently buy just £33m of beef and lamb between them — so a new deal with the US could triple this figure to more than £90m.

The US is our most lucrative export market outside the EU—food and drink exports there were worth nearly £2bn last year with big hitters including whisky, salmon, cheese and biscuits.

The free trade transatlantic partnership (TTIP) deal is currently being negotiated with the US and will help remove trade barriers for thousands of UK food and drink companies, potentially boosting US exports by an extra £500 million.

Elizabeth Truss added, “The USA is a massive opportunity for British exporters, but we only stand to benefit from these trade negotiations as part of a reformed European Union. If we choose to leave, we will back to square one and face years of further negotiations instead of enjoying a major trade boost for UK food and farming. It is clear that our farmers are safer, stronger and better off in a reformed European Union.”

The meeting was one of several during the Environment Secretary’s visit to promote British food and drink in the US through the Great British Food Unit. Launched last year, the unit will turbo charge our exports, support inward investment and champion the excellence of British food and drink at home and abroad.

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