By Matt Jones - 16 June 2021
Industry alarmed at details of Australia/UK trade deal
The farming industry has raised serious concerns over a new trade deal between the UK and Australia, fearing it could harm British farmers’ livelihoods.
The trade deal, announced on Tuesday, could lead to an immediate nearly ten-fold increase in tariff-free imports of Australian beef, and a potential doubling of lamb imports in the first year of the deal.
The overall changes to Australia’s tariff-free access to the UK market are phased in over 10 years, but Australian Government sources have confirmed that major increases in the quotas for red meat will take place “immediately”.
According to figures released on the Australian Government website the Tariff Rate Quota for beef – the amount of Australian product which the UK will accept tariff-free – will rise from the current 3,761 tonnes to 35,000 tonnes straight away, subsequently rising to 110,000 tonnes over the next 10 years.
Currently, Australia can export 13,335 tonnes of lamb and sheep meat to Britain tariff-free. Under the deal that will rise to 25,000 tonnes immediately, and gradually to 75,000 tonnes by 2031.
Hybu Cig Cymru chief executive Gwyn Howells said : “The figures from the Australian Government suggest that, under this deal, the country will have an immediate right to export almost 10 times as much beef, and twice as much lamb, to the UK as it does now.
“This news will do little to calm fears in our domestic livestock sector concerning the need to keep a level playing field. We produce to high standards in terms of welfare, not using hormones and other supplements used in some production systems overseas.
“We also produce beef and lamb very sustainably. Increasing our dependence on foreign produce risks importing food with a higher carbon footprint, which cannot be positive for our commitments on climate change or our food security.”
Responding to the news an agreement in principle, NFU Cymru president John Davies said : “The prospect of a free trade agreement between the UK and Australia has been in the offing for some time.
“NFU Cymru has consistently outlined its concerns about the impact such a deal could have on the Welsh agricultural industry. The UK Government has stated that there will be a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards.
“The union will need to see the actual details before we can truly understand what value the government’s safeguards hold in protecting Welsh and UK farmers from agri-food products produced in systems, and to standards, that are drastically different to those our UK consumer has grown to trust and expect.
“At this stage it is very difficult to see what tangible benefits this trade agreement is going to deliver for our network of Welsh family farms, while the likely negative impacts of increased imports over time are a lot more apparent.
“NFU Cymru has made clear its concerns that this trade agreement with Australia could adversely affect our ambitions to sustainably grow the £7.5 billion Welsh food and drink industry – Wales’ biggest employer.”
Mr Davies said the NFU feels the announcement, whether phased or not, is a signal of the UK Government’s intentions for future trade partnerships and that a precedent has been set here.
“I am sure that negotiators for New Zealand, Canada, USA and Mexico will all want to see at least this level of access as they negotiate free trade agreements with the UK Government and the cumulative impact of these increased agri-food imports, even if they are staggered, needs to be carefully weighed up by government,” he said.
“The UK Government needs to communicate the full details of this agreement in principle and provide thorough impact assessments without delay. It is vital that the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission is set-up to critically examine the detail of this free trade agreement as it is finalised.
“UK Parliament and devolved governments must have the opportunity to properly consider its ramifications. It is also crucial that our Welsh MPs scrutinise this deal very carefully and consider what it will mean in real terms for the Welsh family farms and rural communities they represent.
“As our new Welsh Government takes the Agriculture (Wales) Bill through the Senedd, there is an urgent need to reconsider how future agricultural policy can continue to underpin sustainably produced, climate friendly Welsh food, while supporting our rural communities, against the backdrop of the UK Government’s trade policy.”