Let them eat steak

Concern for farmers over free trade deal with Australia

The Prime Minister has hailed the trade deal with Australia as “historic” and a “new dawn” for the two countries. The deal, centred almost entirely on goods, eliminates tariffs on exports between the two countries for fifteen years, with the government claiming it will save British consumers £34m a year, which equates to around 50p per person. This comes as new analysis from the Centre for European Reform shows that quitting the EU single market and customs union has delivered an £18bn blow to the UK’s trade in goods for the period between the 2016 referendum and the end of 2020.

And whatever rosy picture Boris Johnson and his ministers choose to paint regarding deals wit  nations around the globe, the EU remains the UK’s most important trading partner. UK goods and services exports to the EU made up 43% of the total in 2019, with the EU being the source of 51% of UK imports for the same period. The UK’s next largest trading partner is the US, with Australia currently lagging some way behind.

The new deal with Australia is causing significant concerns, with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) claiming that UK farmers will have to compete with the lower animal welfare standards of industrial scale ranches in Australia, which can number up to 50,000 animals. Farmers in Australia are also permitted to use some hormone growth promoters, pesticides and feed additives that are banned in the UK. Trade in meat between the two countries is currently small, with 14% of sheep meat imports to the UK coming from Australia and just 0.15% of all Australian beef exports arriving in the UK. But although farmers and others are considering staging protests amid worries that tariff-free trade deals such as this could lead to a flood of cheap imports, the Scotch Whiskey Association has welcomed
the proposal to remove the existing 5% tariff on whiskey exports, claiming it will be a “real boost to the industry”.

Our readers are not entirely convinced about the overall value of the new deal, with the highest percentage of those surveyed, 48%, believing that our most important free trade partner continues to be the EU, although within that figure far more Remainers than Leavers think that way. And amongst those opting for Australia as the new top priority, free trade relationship partner, the Leave/Remain split is also reversed.

We then asked which country the Australia deal would benefit most and although fairly close, more consider it will be a boost to the Aussies than to those on these shores. Finally we asked about specific concerns with regard to farming and food production here in the UK. The main concern, standing out markedly from all others, was the potential threat to farmers’ livelihoods. There were also significant fears over animal welfare, food quality and health standards, and environmental standards, all suggesting that though the deal may be done, the matter may not be done and dusted.

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