With negotiations between the UK government and both Australia and New Zealand at an advanced stage, it has emerged that the offer of tariff-free trading in agricultural produce could see British farmers undercut by produce of lower environmental and welfare standards.
And yesterday the country’s four main agricultural unions called on the government to deliver on its promise to create a statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) to scrutinise all trade deals.
With the first deal close to being signed before the TAC has been set up to vet the impact of such deals, the unions fear that the lack of scrutiny would set a serious precedent for all future deals as well.
NFU Scotland yesterday said that it had been in contact with leading Scottish politicians to seek their support in ensuring that any trade deal with Australia followed the correct process.
Union president Martin Kennedy said that he shared the widespread concerns which had been voiced regarding the Australia FTA negotiations, stating that Scotland’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors were particularly exposed in the event of a rushed deal with Australia.
“While some additional market access and tariff liberalisation is expected in this post-Brexit era, all deals must be properly scrutinised and ratified to avoid any risks to the future viability of the farming sector.”
He said it was an area of particular frustration that the commitments on the statutory TAC which should have been up and running before such deals were close to being signed had not been delivered.
“Rushing through a trade deal without the promised statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission in place prior to the deal being concluded also sets a damaging precedent for other trade deals.”
He said that the public had shown unprecedented levels of support for the exceptionally high standards met by Scotland’s farmers and the UK government was duty bound to allow the deals to be properly scrutinised.
“UK consumers already enjoy some of the most affordable food in the world produced to the highest standards. Employment, the prosperity of rural areas and our high standards should not be jeopardised for the sake a headline-grabbing deal.”
He also told a UK-wide press conference that the focus on beef and lamb in Scotland could see his own farmers having to compete with beef produced in feed lots holding up to 50,000 animals.
English NFU leader, Minette Batters said that it would be impossible to calculate the damage which such a deal could wreak on UK farming – and stressed that it would also set a precedent for other countries also looking for free trade agreements on agricultural produce, such as Brazil.
“We’re not against trade liberalisation,” she said, “we just want to see UK farmers treated fairly and given the safeguards they were promised.”