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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue gestures during a news conference with his Mexican counterpart Jose Calzada in Merida, Mexico, July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Lorenzo Hernandez(reuters_tickers)
By Nigel Hunt
LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met with British politicians on Thursday as the two countries eye the potential for increased farm trade once Britain leaves the European Union.
Perdue talked to members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee (EFRA) in the House of Commons and is due to meet his British counterpart Michael Gove on Friday.
"Britain is still part of the EU and we have to be respectful of that relationship but that doesn't preclude the fact we can begin the conversations on what would be in our best interests as two sovereign nations to pursue going forward," Perdue told reporters after the meeting.
There have been concerns in Britain about differing food safety standards with historic practices in the United States such as washing chicken carcasses in chlorine banned in the EU.
"I think that is one of the things I'm here to dispel. We don't process chicken with chlorine any longer," he said, adding he wanted British consumers to be able to make decisions "based on sound science and facts, not perception or myth."
Committee members raised the importance of maintaining food standards in any trade deal.
"We must ensure that a trade deal protects UK consumers and maintains a level playing field for our own producers. Food safety and animal welfare standards must upheld in any future Free Trade Agreement," EFRA chair Neil Parish said.
Perdue said would be premature to go into too much detail on future trade potential but added there might be scope for increased UK exports of lamb.
"We think probably the UK is ahead of us in lamb and sheep production. There is big demand to have access to the U.S. market in those products," he said.
Parish said the domestic U.S. market presented significant opportunities for the UK food and farming industry and following Brexit the government "should focus on securing a great bilateral trade deal with our U.S. partners."
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt, editing by David Evans)