Australian trade deal sells out Scots and UK farmers

The signing of the UK/Australia trade agreement might represent the first entirely new deal to be struck by Britain since it left Europe – but farming organisations have claimed it is a one-sided affair which sells out Scottish and other UK farmers.

The deal was agreed in principle by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison in June, but negotiators finalised the agreement on Thursday night.

“The final deal, as we feared after the announcement of the principle, shows a complete dearth of proper consultation with farming and food sector interests across the UK,” said NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy.

“While we are not against free trade, this deal appears to be very one sided, with little to no advantage for Scottish farmers”.

And he struck out stating that the safeguards which had been put in place within the deal simply delayed the inevitable unfettered access for Australian producers to UK markets.

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“This is an issue given the difference in production systems between Australia and the UK. Scottish and British producers operate to a completely different cost structure, giving the Australian agricultural sector the comparative advantage of commodity production, to the point that transporting products across the world does not erode the price advantage”.

And while he accepted that the main export focus for Australia was currently China, cooling political relations could see the UK used as an alternative and lucrative market with virtually no limits.

“The situation is compounded even more when we know the UK-NZ FTA has also been agreed in principle on almost identical terms,” said Kennedy.

But while the UK government rejected suggestions that the deal was not good news for British farmers, English NFU president, Minette Batters said that there was ‘much to be wary of’.

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“As we feared following the agreement in principle, there appears to be extremely little in this deal to benefit British farmers. We will analyse the detail in full, but on the face of it, this is a one-sided deal,” said Batters.

She said that when it came to agriculture, the Australians had achieved all they had asked for, while British farmers were left wondering what had been secured for them.

“In particular, it is disappointing that the UK government has capitulated to Australian demands to time-limit any safeguards for sensitive sectors.”

Despite assurances that these sectors would be afforded some level of protection, Batters claimed that there would be full liberalisation of dairy after just six years, sugar after eight years and beef and lamb after 15 years – with no guarantees on production standards.

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And, reflecting the view of many organisations, the National Sheep Association’s Phil Stocker expressed little faith in the ability of the scrutinising body, the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), to influence the deal.

“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.”

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