Sheep industry is sacrificial lamb in Aussie trade deal

The UK sheep sector and its concerns about the recently agreed UK/Australia trade deal have been ‘undermined and insulted’ by recent comments from the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC).

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has struck out at statements made by the head of the TAC – the very body set up to scrutinise international trade deals struck by the UK Government to ensure they didn’t undermine home producers - that they had over-reacted to the Australian trade deal.

The UK Government has estimated that the Australia deal could unlock £10.4bn of additional trade a year. However, this equates to only 0.08 per cent of GDP over 15 years – and the sheep industry has claimed that it runs the risk of being set up as the sacrificial lamb.

The first post-Brexit Free Trade Agreement removes tariffs on almost all goods traded with Australia, although the removal of tariffs on some agricultural products, including beef and sheepmeat, will be phased in over 15 years. The TAC report also confirmed the deal could result in the UK having to accept imports of agrifoods produced with pesticides banned in the UK, GM crops and wool from mutilated sheep.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said comments made by TAC chair Professor Lorand Bartels that differences between the UK and Australia’s farming standards were not significant or important and that industry concerns had been ‘over exaggerated’ were wide of the mark.

“Serious health and welfare issues such as mulesing – the removal of skin from the rear of a lamb to prevent soiling and potential parasite infection – transport distances, space in transit and antibiotic use have been dismissed as minute details that are overexaggerated by UK sheep producers.

“Not only does this attitude of the TAC undermine the extremely high welfare standards UK producers uphold but is an insult to UK consumers who value our product and its high production standards,” said Stocker.He admitted that segregation in supply chains could help ensure goods imported to the UK were produced to acceptable standards, but said such an approach would do little to affect wider production standards in Australia.

The NSA submitted a detailed response to the UK/Australia trade deal at the start of the year, said Stocker, highlighting the differences, issues and poor opportunity the Free Trade Agreement provides for UK producers.

“The Association now believes the issues seem to have been brushed off as a minor inconvenience, creating yet another blow to UK producers and compounding the feeling that the evidence of UK farmers and producers is not being listened to.Stating that he had been ‘highly offended’ by Bartels’ comments on over-reaction, he said that while the immediate risk might be small, the deal exposed UK sheep farmers to high levels of risk in years to come, with the possibility that home production could wither and die.

He said it was obvious that, once again, UK producers had been put in a position where their business interests had been cast aside.

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