Boris Johnson’s trade deal with Australia is a “betrayal” of British farmers, MPs have claimed.
The deal, signed earlier this week, will permit huge increases in meat imports before any protective tariffs come into force – raising fears thousands of farms across the UK could be put out of business.
The UK Government claimed farmers would be protected by “a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards”.
But the Australians briefed that tariffs for farming imports would stop in as little as five years for dairy products and 10 years for beef and lamb.
‘Britain deserves better’
Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry said the deal “broke the promises made to the British people”.
“The Secretary of State said last October that she would not sign a trade deal which would allow British farmers to be undercut by cheap imports produced using practices that are allowed in other countries but banned in the UK.”
After listing measures including “branding cattle with hot irons” and “routinely transporting livestock for 48 hours without rest, food or water”, Ms Thornberry added: “And yet under the deal that she has signed, the meat from farms that use those practices will come into our country tariff free, undermining British standards, undercutting British farmers and breaking the promises made to the British people.”
She went on: “The Secretary of State told the newspapers in April that she would sit her inexperienced Australian counterpart in an uncomfortable chair and show him how to play at this level. I’m afraid this deal has exposed the Secretary of State as the one who is not up to the job.
“Britain needs and deserves better.”
Responding, Trade Secretary Liz Truss said of Ms Thornberry: “I’m surprised that she’s known as the shadow secretary of state for international trade, she should be known as the shadow secretary of state against international trade.”
Ms Truss added: “I don’t buy this defeatist narrative that British agriculture can’t compete. We have a high quality, high value product which people want to buy, particularly in the growing middle classes of Asia.”
She also told MPs they can “rest assured that this deal upholds our world class standards from food safety to animal welfare, to the environment”.
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael blasted the deal, he said: “In the same way that the Heath Government in the 1970s decided that fishermen were expendable, Boris Johnson has taken same view of our farmers and crofters.
“I fear that the effect of this short-term thinking will not be felt overnight. Instead we may see gradual changes from price pressures, so that in 10-15 years’ time we turn around and find that they have killed off our red meat production in much the same way that they killed off dairy before.”
Boris Johnson's free trade deal with Australia gets both barrels from @amcarmichaelMP – 'In the same way that the Heath Government in the 1970s decided that fishermen were expendable, Johnson has taken the same view of our farmers and crofters'
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) June 17, 2021
Earlier in the day, shadow environment minister Daniel Zeichner described the deal as a “betrayal of British farming” and asked what measures will be put in place to help the sector.
Environment Secretary George Eustice replied: “We’ve secured some important mitigations to help the farming industry including the fact that a tariff rate quota will remain in place for the first 10 years on both beef and sheep and for the subsequent five years there will be a special agricultural safeguard that means if volumes go above a certain trigger tariffs immediately snap back in.
“So we believe that we’ve put in place mitigations through that quota for the first 10 years and that safeguard.”
Anger over the deal was raised at the Scottish Parliament where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for a vote in Holyrood and Westminster.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The detail of this should be published in full, it should be put to a vote, and I’d suggest it should be put to a vote not just in the House of Commons but in this parliament as well, so we can represent the interests of the farming community across Scotland.
“I’m deeply concerned about the implications of this trade deal and future trade deals on our farming sector in Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon referred to comments by the Australian deputy prime minister. She said he saw the deal as a win for his own farmers.
“It’s not his job to worry about Scottish producers,” Ms Sturgeon added.
“But the fact he’s not worried suggests the UK Government is not standing up for these interests in these talks either.”