Meat industry reacts to signing of UK-Australia FTA

Meat industry reacts to signing of UK-Australia FTA

Industry bodies have expressed mixed reactions on the signing of the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which was agreed in principle in June.

The trade deal marks the first brand new UK FTA with a partner without a pre-existing FTA with the EU or the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU itself.

As part of the deal, Australia and the UK have committed to providing “the most liberal possible treatment” for goods of interest to both countries, while taking into account product sensitivities. The UK government has also said the new deal would add £10.4 billion of additional trade while ending tariffs on all UK exports.

“A key moment”

Commenting on the signing of the deal, Katrina Walsh, International Meat Trade Association (IMTA) policy director, said: “In an unpredictable world where anything from a pandemic to animal disease outbreaks can happen, having access to high quality meat from a range of trade partners, on top of domestic production, is key to maintaining UK food security. The additional duty-free access within this agreement will contribute to that.”

Walsh added that the signature of the FTA with Australia is “a key moment in the UK’s new trade journey”, and that the deal is welcomed by IMTA. She said: “We look forward to seeing future progress on UK FTAs with other partners like New Zealand and CPTPP.”

“A one-sided deal”

NFU president Minette Batters said: “As we feared following the agreement in principle, there appears to be extremely little in this deal to benefit British farmers. We will analyse the detail in full but on the face of it, this is a one-sided deal. When it comes to agriculture, the Australians have achieved all they have asked for and British farmers are left wondering what has been secured for them.”

Batters added that the UK government has “capitulated to Australian demands to time-limit any safeguards for sensitive sector.” She said: “Despite assurances that these sectors would be afforded some level of protection, we will see full liberalisation of dairy after just six years, sugar after eight years and beef and lamb after 15 years. There will also be no safeguards for any products if imports reach damaging levels after those 15 years are up.”

The UK’s agreement surrounding beef and lamb quotas is also of concern to the NFU president. She said that the agreement will favour imports of high-value cuts, “despite this being the end of the market where British farmers tend to derive any value from their hard work.”

Batters added that it would also be difficult to discern anything in the new deal that will allow UK food bodies to control imports of food produced below the standards legally required of British farmers. Examples of this include land deforested for cattle production or systems that rely on the transport of live animals in a way that would be illegal in the UK.

“Ditch the soundbites”

The NFU president said that, ultimately, the deal “serves to heap further pressure on farm businesses at a time when they are facing extraordinary inflationary pressure and sustained labour shortages.”

Batters said: “The government needs to level with farmers about the commercial reality of this and ditch the soundbites that lost any meaning a long time ago. It needs to set out a detailed agri-food export strategy, with complementary policies that will enable UK farmers to compete and adjust. We have seen some progress as the government begins to set out its export strategy, but much, much more is needed and implementing our three-point plan for getting farming ‘match-ready’ would be a good start.

“I hope that MPs will now take a good, hard look at this deal to see if it really does match up to the government’s rhetoric to support our farmers’ businesses and safeguard our high animal welfare and environmental standards. I fear they will be disappointed.”

“The sacrificial lamb”

National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA is disappointed that this deal has been pushed through and now signed without any resolution on how TRQs could be managed in a way to limit potential damage to the UK’s own domestic trade.”

Stocker continued: “We have no confidence that a licensing procedure has been or is now being considered. We are told the deal still has to be scrutinised by parliament and TAC, but from recent experiences we can be sure this will be a formality rather than an opportunity for positive amendments to be made.”

According to NSA, the deal will see the Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) for lamb more than triple immediately from roughly 8,000 tonnes annually to 25,000, and then grow over ten years to 125,000 tonnes – at current consumption rates that is equivalent to more than 40% of the UK’s total sheepmeat needs.

Stocker added: “NSA warned from day one that the UK sheep sector could end up being the sacrificial lamb for the benefit of other industries in a trade deal with Australia, and indeed New Zealand. I’m confident the British sheep industry is in a fit enough state to fight back when we have to, despite our standards being ratcheted higher and higher (many of which carry costs). And fight we will do, in order to maintain domestic support for our high quality products and to access other global markets.”

Following the signing, the FTA will now be laid in the UK Parliament for a period of scrutiny.

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