Further concerns raised over UK/Oz trade deal

Further concerns raised over UK/Oz trade deal

More trade organisations, including the BMPA and AIMS, amongst others, have raised additional concerns regarding the recent Free Trade Agreement with Australia.

Peter Hardwick
Peter Hardwick has worked in the international meat sector for 40 years.

The BMPA said that whilst it welcomed freer trade the new tariff-free quotas are concerning for meat processors. In particular the access that has been granted is not nuanced to take into account the negative impact that relatively small additional volumes of high value cuts can have on our market.

From year one, access for Australia’s beef exports will immediately increase from the current level of 3,761 tonnes to 35,000 tonnes; a more than eightfold increase. But by year fifteen, the UK will be allowing in 170,000 tonnes which represents a massive 45 times the current level of access. There’s a similar picture for lamb which could see imports rise to more than eight times the current level.

Greater access to Britain’s agrifood market is highly prized by countries like Australia who produce food on a much bigger scale than the UK, but this is just the first of many trade deals warned the BMPA.

Time for change to OV control

AIMS’s Tony Goodger highlighted a major discrepancy when it comes to OV controls. He said: “In the UK every FBO is required to have an OV on site. However, in Australia they have what are called ‘Red Meat Spotters’ to facilitate post mortem inspection and there, FBOs are able to take full responsibility for food safety issues.

“If we are happy to allow meat into the UK that does not have to be supervised by an OV then surely we can have the same system running here just as successfully?”

Commenting, BVA President James Russell said: “BVA has always argued that removing trade barriers must go hand in hand with protecting the UK’s reputation for high animal welfare standards.

“While the phasing in of tariff-free access gives British agriculture time to adjust, there appears to be no mechanism to ensure Australia must use that time to meet an appropriate level of animal welfare standards in order to secure tariff-free access to the UK market.

“With these key questions remaining, we’re calling on the Government to spell out exactly how it will safeguard animal welfare standards as the UK steps out onto the global trading stage.”

A hidden problem

On the question of trade BMPA sees another hidden problem. It points out that while a 45-times increase in access for Aussie meat is an obvious issue for domestic producers, there’s another hidden problem that few people are talking about.

Both the UK and Australian governments claim that there is no risk of Australian meat flooding the UK market due to limited supply and higher prices following several years of drought as well as strong demand elsewhere. However, the BMPA says this does not take into account the fact that small volumes of certain products can have a major effect on our domestic market.

Peter Hardwick, BMPA’s trade policy advisor explained: “It’s not the amount of meat by weight that matters, it is the amount of high-end, high value cuts undercutting home produced product that will have a disproportional impact on the marketplace. It will skim the top off our home market and have a very negative effect on returns. It’s this part of the animal producers and processors rely on to remain profitable.

“A 20 foot container load of beef with 17,000kg of a full range of meat cuts might represent the meat from just 60 animals. A similar shipment containing only high-value boneless sirloins would have come from over 1000 animals. If it were fillet steaks it could be three times that number.

“In simple terms if as little as 7,000 tonnes were imported as sirloins it would take 20% of the UK’s prime beef production to produce here.”

Nick Allen, CEO of The British Meat Processors Association added that: Quite what this deal will mean for the market in this country will depend on what cuts of meat the Government has agreed as part of the quota.”

Most countries negotiating trade deals work closely with their industries to get a clear understanding of what the impact will be on their own economies. However, BMPA feels there is little evidence to date that the UK Government has cooperated with industry to build this understanding.

Welfare standards reassurance needed

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said:  “We are concerned to hear that a tariff-free deal has been done on beef and lamb and need reassurance that there will be equivalence to our standards on any imports in the deal. So we now urge Boris Johnson to take every step he can to safeguard animal welfare with the details of the agreement. 

“This agreement with Australia could set a worrying precedent if it welcomes imports produced to lower animal welfare standards than those allowed in the UK through the unconditional reduction in tariffs on sensitive issues such as beef and lamb. The UK public doesn’t want to see these low welfare products on supermarket shelves.

At present much of the food industry appears disappointed that the Trade and Agriculture Commission scrutiny committee that has been promised is still only in the early recruitment stage at a time when the first of the real trade deals, and one that will have many ramifications for future trade deals, has already been agreed.

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