Boris Johnson sends tariff-cutting signal to Australian farmers – The Australian Financial Review

Credit: Original article can be found here

“All he does is call for us to pull up the drawbridge … Why is he so frightened of free trade? I think it is a massive opportunity for Scotland and for the whole of the UK, and he should seize it and be proud of it,” Mr Johnson said.

He replied to a Welsh MP in similar terms, urging farmers to focus on export opportunities.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan held two days of FTA talks with his counterpart Liz Truss in late April, after which they promised to talk every Friday in a bid to get an “in-principle” agreement sorted in time for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to Britain in mid-June.

It is understood that farm tariffs were one of the issues still left to resolve, as Mr Tehan needs to deliver a tangible improvement on access while Ms Truss faces an intense rearguard lobbying campaign from the National Farmers Union (NFU).

Media reports suggest that Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice is pushing for an extended phase-out of tariffs of up to 15 years to protect farmers, backed by influential roving minister Michael Gove.

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But Ms Truss and her allies are pushing for tariffs to drop to zero in a decade or less. They see bilateral FTAs as a way to portray Britain as a “buccaneering” free trader benefiting from Brexit.

They are also worried that other countries will be willing to talk trade with Britain if the government is seen as beholden to agricultural producer interests, and it might hinder the country’s chances of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an Asian trade bloc including Australia.

“A UK-Australia FTA would be a key step allowing us to go on to do many other trade deals. First those with New Zealand and Canada. Then we might join the CPTPP. Then maybe a deal with the US and perhaps with other countries such as Brazil,” conservative commentator Andrew Lilico wrote in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.

The compromise may be to split the difference on the length of the phase-in, or offer quotas instead of tariffs. Whether this is acceptable to Australia is another question.

Mr Johnson’s parliamentary intervention suggests he wants to see British farmers develop their strengths, rather than have any weaknesses protected, and is prepared to let structural adjustment work its way through the sector.

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But pro-Brexit campaigners including Mr Johnson and Mr Gove have promised that leaving the EU would not leave the agriculture sector worse off, which some farmers have assumed would mean retaining at least some EU-style tariffs, quotas and subsidies.

The NFU’s argument is that Australian farmers produce to lower standards in areas such as animal welfare and pesticide, allowing them to flood the British market with cheap imports

Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis, took the unusual step on Wednesday of writing to all Conservative MPs to rebut these claims.

He said Asian markets largely absorbed Australia’s output, and it was likely only high-end produce would be sold in Britain.

“Claims that Australian beef and lamb will flood the UK market if there is a Free Trade Agreement have no basis in fact, reality or economics. They are a scare campaign and should be treated as such,” he said.

He also said that Australia’s experience of FTAs was that each deal was unique to the two sides’ circumstances, and did not set a precedent or template.