06 March, 2019
Britain and the United States have opened exploratory talks on a trade agreement. Such an agreement would take effect after Britain officially leaves the European Union.
The withdrawal, known as Brexit, is set for March 29.
Sharp differences have arisen between British and U.S. officials over agricultural issues. Britain is resisting U.S. demands to open its markets to farm products currently banned under EU law.
The most widely reported example is Europe's import ban on American "chlorinated chicken." In the United States, the meat processing industry washes chickens in chlorine to remove harmful bacteria. Europe says that an over-dependence on chlorine lowers overall production and cleanliness on poultry farms.
U.S. officials are disputing the claim.
Use of artificial growth hormones
The European Union has also banned imports of meat from American cows that have been treated with artificial growth hormones. Natural hormones control growth in animal or plant cells.
American farmers use artificial hormones to increase the size of animals or to increase milk production. But EU officials warn that one commonly used growth hormone may cause cancer. They add there is not enough scientific information on other hormones to approve their use in food.
U.S. officials have made it clear that any future trade deal with Britain must see these food bans dropped.
Former U.S. lawmaker Darrell Issa is President Donald Trump's choice to lead the U.S. government's Trade and Development Agency. Issa says that the millions of Britons visiting the United States every year enjoy perfectly safe food.
"We'd like to have that arrangement being one in which, in Britain, you can choose to have American chicken, American beef, or other agricultural products, just as you could when you come to the United States. It is a key lynchpin of an agreement. Financial, manufacturing and agriculture have to be free and fair."
The U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, recently wrote about the issue in Britain's The Telegraph newspaper. He attacked what he called "myths" over American farming, claiming they are part of an effort to protect the interests of British farmers.
British food quality concerns
Britain has repeatedly said that it will not lower food quality rules after it leaves the EU. In answer to Ambassador Johnson's comments, British international trade minister Liam Fox said his country would not compromise.
Fox spoke to the British Broadcasting Corporation.
"Will we accept things that we believe are against the interests of our consumers or our producers? No, we won't. It's a negotiation."
The dispute over American meat imports is also influencing debate over the Irish border, a major issue in Britain's attempt to cancel its EU membership.
British and EU officials want to avoid border inspections between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar recently expressed fears that the border could open a back door into the EU. In other words, EU members might import products that fail to meet their food safety requirements.
Varadkar told reporters, "If at some point in the future the United Kingdom were to allow chlorinated chicken or beef with hormones into their markets, we wouldn't want that coming into our markets or the European Union as well."
The United States says a trade deal would help British industries, like financial services. And Britain appears interested in strengthening its position in the post-Brexit world as an international trading power.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Henry Ridgwell reported this story for VOA News. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
poultry – adj. chickens or birds raised for their meat
artificial – adj. not natural; produced by someone or something
arrangement – n. the organization of something
myth – n. a belief or tradition about someone or something
lynchpin – n. something that holds together different parts that exist or operate together as one
consumer – n. one that uses products or services
allow – v. to permit