Consider the facts about chlorinated chicken and relish the prospect of a UK-US free trade deal

Consider the facts about chlorinated chicken and relish the prospect of a UK-US free trade deal

The Secretary of State for International Trade has certainly set the fox amongst the protectionist chickens. Liam Fox was in Washington D.C. for the beginning of trade talks between the United Kingdom and United States of America just as it was reported that there was a Cabinet rift between him and Michael Gove on the acceptance of imports of chlorinated chicken.

The USA has made access for its poultry producers a condition of any trade deal with the European Union and their veteran trade team has made clear it will be a condition of any British trade deal.

Putting ‘chlorinated’ in front of something doesn’t often make it the most appertising proposition. And the fact that the USA has made it a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ issue means we have to face up to the prospect of it. But I’ve always believed that evidence should be at the heart of policy, not ideology, and the prospect of imports of chlorinated chicken is actually something we should welcome.

Chlorine-washing chicken reduces risk from harmful bacteria. Critics of the idea picture dead chickens lathered with thick bleach then sent to unsuspecting families in shops. In fact, the wash contains only tens of milligrams of chlorine per litre. But, more importantly, it kills bacteria – reducing the instance of salmonella in poultry from 14% of all carcasses to just 2%. According to Poultry World there are 1.5 times as many salmonella cases per person in the EU as there are in the United States of America.

Baseless lobbying has led us to ban imports of a safe product that could reduce the price of food. The process leaves no taste and the European Union’s own Food Safety Authority has said it ‘would be of no safety concern’.

But let’s be honest, this is about more than just chicken meat. This is about one of the greatest prizes Brexit offers the British people: a free trade deal with the largest economy on earth. Within the Customs Union it’s mostly been goods sectors that have seen the sort of regulatory harmonisation that allows for frictionless trade. This ignores our comparative advantage – we’re a country that trades in services: financial, legal and consultancy. Together the services sector makes up nearly 80% of the British economy and we should put it at the heart of any future trade negotiations.

We shouldn’t let squeamishness get in the way of a trade deal that will make us a lot better off.

Barriers to trade should be examined in detail as we leave the EU. And in order to get access to America’s markets for our service industries we should embrace removing those barriers that have no sound scientific grounding.

If we’re able to look through the scary chlorine label, we’ll see clearly the bigger prize beyond: free trade with our greatest ally.