Farmers raise 'deep concerns' over Australia trade deal – bbc.com

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Scottish farmers have expressed “deep concerns” over a trade deal agreed between the UK and Australia.

Downing Street said the pact meant British products such as Scotch whisky would be cheaper to sell to Australia.

But industry body NFU Scotland warned the free trade agreement would ultimately give Australia “unfettered access” to UK food and drink markets.

It also claimed a lack of industry consultation set a “dangerous precedent” for future trade deals.

The UK government said British farmers would be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards.

The Department for International Trade said full details would be published in the coming days.

A spokesperson added: “The agreement will include protections for farmers and is a gateway to joining CPTPP, a high-standards free trade agreement of 11 Pacific nations, which will mean lower tariffs for British farming exports to those markets.

“No deal sets a blueprint for future deals, all trade deals are different and are tailored to the relationships and markets of the countries involved – there is no one size fits all.”

But NFU Scotland said it was still concerned.

President Martin Kennedy said: “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.”

‘Dangerous precedent’

The industry body also claimed that the agreement in principle with Australia set “a dangerous precedent” for future free trade agreements (FTAs) with other major farming and food producing nations such as New Zealand, Canada and the US.

“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,” Mr Kennedy said.

“The cumulative impact of all such trade deals on extremely vulnerable sectors such as farming, food and drink could be hugely destructive.”

NFU Scotland’s response echoes concerns in the wider British farming community about the UK compromising on its food standards.

Farmers in Australia are allowed to use some hormone growth promoters, pesticides, and feed additives that are banned in the UK.

Trade in meat between the two countries remains small at present, with 14% of sheep meat imports to the UK coming from Australia and just 0.15% of all Australian beef exports going to the UK.

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While farmers remain worried, the Scotch Whisky Association welcomed the deal’s proposal to remove the existing 5% tariff on whisky exports.

Chief executive Karen Betts said: “This will help Scotch whisky distillers continue to expand exports to Australia, which have almost doubled over the last decade, making Australia our eighth largest market by value.

“Our preference is always for tariff-free trade, which enables Scotch whisky to compete on a level playing field and on the strength of our reputation for quality.”

She added: “A framework for addressing regulatory barriers to trade with Australia, to ensure greater legal protection and tax fairness for Scotch whisky, is also important to us, and – if delivered in this agreement – will be a real boost for the industry.”

‘Fantastic opportunity’

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack described the trade deal as “very welcome news for Scotland and the whole of the UK”.

He said: “The removal of tariffs presents a fantastic opportunity for our iconic distilleries.

“Scotland’s financial services, manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors will also receive a boost.

“Measures to protect the UK’s agriculture industry and maintain high standards will also help Scottish farmers make the most of international opportunities opened up by this deal.”

‘Damaging for farmers’

Scotland’s Trade Minister Ivan McKee said it was essential for the UK government to provide a full impact assessment of the deal and details of safeguards.

He said: “Today’s announcement confirms our fears that the UK government has signed up to a deal that will be damaging for farmers and crofters.

“A 15-year cap on imports will provide no comfort for farming communities, who have looked after the land for generations.

“We have been clear that any gains must not come at the cost of domestic producers, farming communities or our food standards.

“The UK government must explain how our current food standards will be protected.”