UK-Australia trade deal: ‘The government’s message is clear - farming can be sacrificed for a deal’

Importing lower standard produce and offshoring our carbon emissions is not a solution, it’s a disaster, writes Jen Craig, National Sheep Association Scotland Chair

Farming in Scotland is completely different to the industry in Australia (Getty Images)
Farming in Scotland is completely different to the industry in Australia (Getty Images)

There has been a lot of coverage about the impending trade deal with Australia that the UK Government has just completed.

A lot of that has been from the agriculture industry, who are gravely concerned and astonished that time and time again our input and knowledge is ignored.

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In the debating chamber of Holyrood and on the social media of its parliamentarians it has been an at times heated political debate. Two sides fighting over a trade deal and using it as yet another reason to draw swords and drift further apart.

It is not about political parties and allegiances, and it should not be used to score political points, it’s about an industry being undermined, ignored and threatened. It’s about the people who run farming businesses, the farms, the local feed merchant, the machinery dealerships and remote rural communities. They are at threat here.

There has been no parliamentary scrutiny of the deal and no consultation with devolved nations or industry. We were told in future trade deals our production standards would not be undermined but we have no details on safeguards to ensure our animal welfare and agricultural inputs are not undermined by cheaper, lower quality imports.

NSA Scotland has raised these concerns along with numerous other industry stakeholders in meetings, sending individual and joint letters, doing interviews with the press and yet the message does not seem to be getting through. The Scottish Government has raised concerns on behalf of the industry and these letters, so far, have gone ignored. That is simply not acceptable.

‘If it’s a good deal for farmers, prove it’

On the other side of the debate we have politicians appearing in the media telling us it will be fine, it’s a good deal for farmers and we have nothing to worry about.

I say if that’s the case then prove it, give us the detail we are asking for.

Some say the deal along with others will open up new markets for us, great, but that takes investment. Is there a plan for that? Where is that money going to come from as we recover from a pandemic?

Farming in Scotland is completely different to Australia and many of the other countries our government may be looking to trade with.

Our standards are amongst the best in the world, our methods of farming are sustainable, we already care for the environment and are always looking for what more we can do.

The UK Government says it supports farmers, but actions speak louder than words and they’re giving us a pretty clear message, that, like the fishermen, farming can and will be sacrificed if it means a trade deal and cementing our reputation as a “global Britain”.

I say that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough for the industry, the farmers, the communities, the consumer, the animals or the environment.

Importing lower standard produce and offshoring our carbon emissions is not a solution, it’s a disaster.

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