The United Kingdom’s government has agreed in principle to a new trade deal with Australia which would loosen restrictions on importing beef into the UK while also offering new opportunities for British producers.
Local farmer and president of NFU Scotland, Martin Kennedy is concerned about the move undercutting local producer’s overtime.
However, Patrick Holden, chief executive of the UK’s Sustainable Food Trust, defended the overseas trade agreement by saying: “We need new trade deals, whether long distance with Australia, hopefully with carbon-friendly shipping systems, or whether closer to hand. That food needs to come from farms which are part of the solution rather than the problem.”
The government is capping the number of imports to try protect farmers, but Mr Kennedy is concerned that the limit on imports are not enough since they only last for 15 years.
He believes the deal must make it to parliament to be debated so the proposal can be properly scrutinised and improved.
Mr Kennedy explained: “As detail on the proposed terms of agreement around an Australian trade deal emerge, deep concerns will remain about its impact on Scotland’s farmers, crofters and our wider food and drink sector.
“Under the proposed deal, there is to be a cap on tariff-free imports from Australia for 15 years. That is merely a slow journey to the Australians getting unfettered access to UK markets and with no guarantees that the promises of other safeguards will address the fact that very different production systems are permitted in Australia compared to here in the UK.”
Still awaiting a debate in parliament, the deal is coming under criticism for the open-ended possibility of offering deals which would leave British markets vulnerable to outside business.
The fear is that unregulated markets, who can offer lower quality or quality at the expense of animal welfare, could easily undercut British prices.
Mr Kennedy added: “The deal has not been afforded the appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation and has been agreed in advance of the promised statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission being established to scrutinise such deals. Parliamentarians must be given the opportunity to examine this deal, and any future deals, with Government carrying out a detailed impact assessment on what it may mean for the agriculture and food sectors.
“An FTA with Australia, and the way it has been agreed without proper industry consultation or scrutiny, sets a dangerous precedent for other Free Trade Agreements, including those with other major farming and food producing nations such as New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
“The cumulative impact of all such trade deals on extremely vulnerable sectors such as farming, food and drink could be hugely destructive.
“We are ambitious to identify and grasp opportunities to build our industry and wider economy and our reputation for world class produce. Trade deals could be an enabler of this, but it is going to require collaboration between UK Government and the industry; collaboration which does not exist at present.”