The Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee recommends that Parliament consents to the EU-UK deal but expresses concern about maintaining a level playing field.

On Wednesday, the opinion on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was approved with 63 votes in favour, 9 against and 7 abstentions, recommending that Parliament consents to the Agreement, which covers trade in goods and services, as well as many other areas.                                                                                                     The committee’s opinion reiterates the need to pay particular attention to the trade in products between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in order to maintain the integrity of the Single Market and avoid risks to the environment, public health and food safety, as well as food shortages.

Level playing field, climate and environmental provisions

MEPs welcome the TCA’s aim to ensure that current level of climate and environmental protection is maintained, but regret that the Agreement is based on the outdated 40 % reduction target for 2030. They therefore call for EU and UK targets on climate and environmental protection to remain aligned.                                                      Significant differences between a future UK carbon market and the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) could distort the level playing field. This should be taken into account when applying the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism – once it has been established. MEPs are also deeply concerned about some of the UK’s environmental actions, such as its intention to deregulate genetic modification, which could result in such products entering the EU without safety controls or proper labelling.

Health

MEPs welcome the provisions for cooperation on health security, which facilitate the exchange of relevant information. However, they regret that this has been limited to assessing ‘significant’ public health risks and to coordinating the possible measures to protect public health, stating that the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for more cooperation on health matters.

Food safety

MEPs are pleased that EU food safety standards will not be compromised and that the Agreement aims to uphold the EU’s high provisions on sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS). However, they note that the UK’s departure from the EU internal market and Customs Union will require separate rules to regulate human, plant and animal health and that the SPS measures largely reflect WTO rules in these areas.

After the vote, Pascal Canfin (Renew Europe, France) said: “Now that we have the EU-UK TCA, the EU must ensure its implementation. It is essential to assure European citizens that goods and services imported from the UK – which remains a very large trading partner – comply with our sanitary, health and environmental requirements. I have therefore proposed that a task force should be created to ensure coordination between EU authorities and the most affected EU ports in order to avoid uneven border checks of UK goods arriving in the EU. We have already noticed the British government’s willingness to soften its legal framework in several areas, be it on GMO laws or with the reintroduction of neonicotinoids. I urge the Commission to be strict should the agreement not be fully respected.”

Next steps

This opinion feeds into a consent proposal prepared by the two standing rapporteurs in the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Trade, who handle opinions from several other committees as well. Following a vote in these two main committees, the plenary is set to vote before the end of the provisional application of the agreement.                                In addition to the plenary vote, Parliament will also vote on an accompanying resolution prepared by the political groups in the UK Coordination Group and the Conference of Presidents.

The new Trade and Cooperation agreement has provisionally applied since 1 January 2021. For it to enter into force permanently, it requires Parliament’s consent. Parliament has repeatedly stated that it considers the current provisional application to be the result of a unique set of circumstances, and an exercise not to be repeated.