ANGER and dismay have been the two predominant reactions to the newly struck UK-Australian trade
deal, which is being viewed as delivering very little for UK farmers.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union said it seems “Australia have got what they wanted at the expense of local food production,” while the British Veterinary Association (BVA) warn-
ed it has set “a very worrying precedent” by offering tariff free access to products that do not meet the UK’s high standards.
The free trade deal with Australia is described as the first post-Brexit deal negotiated from scratch and not “rolled over” from trade terms that the UK enjoyed while in the EU.
The agreement was signed in a virtual ceremony by International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Tre-velyan and is due to come into force next year.
The UK Government has insisted the deal will not harm agriculture as it contains safeguards such as tariff quotas in the first 10 years.
However, this has done little to allay the fears of those within the sector who will now have to compete with Australian goods which have not had to adhere to the same standards set for UK producers.
Commenting on the recent announcement that the UK-Aust-ralian trade deal has been finalised, UFU President Victor Chestnutt said: “When the news first broke about a free trade agreement in principle with Australia, we continually stressed alongside the other UK farming unions that Government need to safeguard local farming and food production.
“It’s very hard to see how Government have delivered on this, when the deal appears to be falling extremely short of benefits for UK agriculture.
“We will examine the agreement in more detail but at the moment it seems Australia have got what they wanted at the expense of local food production.
“We were given guarantees that sensitive sectors would be granted some level of protection but disappointingly safeguards have been time-limited. Full liberalisation of dairy will be granted after just six years and beef and lamb after 15 years.
“To aggravate the situation further, no safeguards will be available for any product if imports rise to a harmful volume after the time-limit is up.
“Plus, our farmers have been thrown under the bus with the UK agreeing to beef and lamb quotas favouring imports of high-value cuts.
“This is the end of the market where they gain the best return for their dedication to producing food to world leading standards.
“There is also the issue of not being able to distinguish in detail how the UK will control imports that do not meet the high animal welfare and environmental standards that our farmers work to daily.
“The environment policy that Northern Ireland farmers uphold adds extra cost when producing food, and while we’re doing everything we can to tackle climate change, Australia have no realistic plan in place to get to net zero by 2050 despite signing up to the Paris Agreement.
“Government must now start being straight with UK farmers about the implications and potential impacts of this deal on their family farm business.
“They’re already enduring rising production costs as well as ongoing labour shortages, with the entire food supply chain making it very clear earlier this week at a cross-sector summit in London that it needs to be addressed immediately.
“If our farmers are going to have a chance of competing with some of the most effective agricultural exporters in the world in their home market, there will need to be a significant change in domestic food and farming policy.
“Now, the Trade and Agri-culture commission and the Select Committees, will have approximately three months to review the deal and report to Parliament. After which primary legislation will be needed.”
The National Sheep Association has expressed its grave dis-appointment, with chief executive Phil Stocker stating: “NSA is disappointed that this deal has been pushed through and now signed without any resolution on how TRQs could be managed in a way to limit potential damage to the UK’s own domestic trade.”
When news of the agreement of the trade deal in principle was announced back in the summer NSA warned of the need for thorough scrutiny of its terms and also called for the use of a licensing procedure to manage seasonality disruption and the use of a whole carcase weight co-efficient to help manage high volumes of single and boned out cuts.”
Mr Stocker continued: “We have no confidence that this licensing procedure has been or is now being considered. We are told the deal still has to be scrutinised by Parliament and TAC, but from recent experiences we can be sure this will be a formality rather than an opportunity for positive amendments to be made.”
The deal will see the Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) for lamb more than triple immediately from roughly 8,000 tonnes annually to 25,000, and then grow over 10 years to 125,000 tonnes – at current consumption rates that is equivalent to more than 40 per cent of the UK’s total sheepmeat needs.
Mr Stocker added: “NSA warned from day one that the UK sheep sector could end up being the sacrificial lamb for the benefit of other industries in a trade deal with Australia, and indeed New Zealand.
“I’m confident the British sheep industry is in a fit enough state to fight back when we have to, despite our standards being ratcheted higher and higher (many of which carry costs).
“And fight we will do, in order to maintain domestic support for our high quality products and to access other global markets.”
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