SNP's Jim Fairlie: why the UK-Australia free trade deal is a 'downright disgrace'

The new agreement is a poor deal for farmers, and as a precedent for future deals it could be cataclysmic, writes the SNP MSP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire

The UK Government has announced an agreement in principle with Australia on a trade deal that will be a disaster for the industry.

They have done so despite all that has been said to them by those who will be most affected.

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NFU President Minette Batters describes it as “incredibly disappointing to hear news of the government’s trade strategy from sources other than the government themselves, especially when its reported plans will have such a massive impact”.

Jim Fairlie MSP argues that the UK-Australia trade deal was done with no consultation, no consent and no parliamentary scrutiny (Composite Image: Mark Hall/JPI Media)
Jim Fairlie MSP argues that the UK-Australia trade deal was done with no consultation, no consent and no parliamentary scrutiny (Composite Image: Mark Hall/JPI Media)

That was very restrained of Minette. I would say it was a lot more than disappointing - a downright disgrace is what I would call it.

This is a deal that was done with no consultation, no consent and no parliamentary scrutiny. It is a deal that shouldn’t be happening.

In the words of the Australian Deputy Prime Minister: “The big winners are Australian producers, Australian farmers, indeed Australians full stop.”

And, if they are the winners, who do you think are the losers?

‘As a former sheep farmer, I share their concerns’

As a former sheep farmer myself, I share the grave concerns of farmers that they will be severely undercut by a deal that grants tariff and quote-free access to UK markets for Australian lamb and beef.

NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker called such a deal “wholly unacceptable” and pointed out that “no consultation has been had with NFU Scotland on such proposals”, adding that “the impact on family farms of food produced to lower standards than those set here would be devastating”.

And the organisation’s president Martin Kennedy warned the free trade deal would be a “deep betrayal” by the UK Government.

There is a reason why farming leaders have been using such strong language. This is a poor deal for farmers as it stands on its own, but as a precedent for future deals it could, quite honestly, be cataclysmic.

It opens up the possibility of New Zealand lamb coming in which could damage our ability to export to the EU.

‘Voices from across farming have been ignored’

The Scottish Government has not been involved in any of the discussions and there has been no response to the letter from our Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon, nor the one I wrote, co-signed by a whole host of industry organisations, to the Prime Minister.

The Trade Commission that is supposed to ensure the Australia trade deal does not undermine UK food and animal welfare rules will not be set up until months after the deal is signed so even if the deal were to come to Parliament for scrutiny, that essential advice would not be available.

Voices from right across farming and food production have been ignored, as have the devolved administrations. It is not just Westminster that should be examining this deal – the Scottish Parliament should also have oversight before it is ratified.

Scotland is world-renowned for our high-quality meat products which face being seriously undermined by lower-quality products, threatening the very future of farmers and crofters in Scotland’s agriculture sector, many of whom have businesses that were built up through generations.

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