EU commissioner Mairead McGuinness said she hoped the UK would not compromise on food safety in its rush to secure post-Brexit trade deals.
She was speaking in the wake of the UK's trade deal with Australia – the first since it left the EU – which critics say makes little or no mention of animal welfare or environmental standards, and which will undermine food production standards in the UK.
"I would hope that the UK in their mission to be 'great and global' won't erode many of the standards they were instrumental in developing within the European Union, " Ms McGuinness told a webinar event on Brexit hosted by the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce.
She said the UK was central to development of the EU’s food traceability system, which was developed in reaction to the BSE crisis of the 1990s.
Asked what she thought of claims that the UK would surpass the EU in the number of trade deals it would secure by the end of the decade, she said: “I didn’t know we were in a race.”
Ms McGuinness, the EU financial services commissioner, said the UK had “sundered a very strong relationship” by leaving the EU, and it may feel the need to find new trading partners to make up for that.
“I don’t see this as a race. There is a lot of discussion around globalisation and trade agreements, and we need to listen to all sides of those arguments,” Ms McGuinness said, noting the EU’s future trade agreements would be linked around sustainability.
On the Northern Ireland protocol, Ms McGuinness said the EU side wanted it implemented in fully.
The protocol confers a special post-Brexit trading status on Northern Ireland in a bid to avoid a hard Border on the island. However, its implementation has given rise to the current EU-UK tensions.
She said the UK’s unilateral action on the protocol – it deferred the introduction of export health certificates for shipments of animal products – made forging a future relationship harder.“Trust needs to be restored,” she said.
The EU has said it will take legal action over Britain's decision to continue Irish Sea border grace periods until October. European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the UK's move amounted to a violation of its post-Brexit obligations.