The UK Government’s plans to protect farmers in its trade deal with Australia have been described as “bluff and bluster” by the SNP.
Trade policy minister Greg Hands has responded to Perthshire South and Kinrosshire MSP Jim Fairlie, who had co-signed a warning with Scotland’s farming leaders setting out concerns.
Mr Hands said he did not fear cheap imports of Australian beef would be headed for UK shores because of the Australian government’s ambitions to trade with expanding Pacific markets.
Government promises “protections”
In response, Mr Hands said: “Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not unfairly undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.
“A UK-Australia FTA will not undercut UK farmers unfairly or compromise our high standards.
“Instead, this deal will open up opportunities in fast growing markets across the CPTPP countries.
“Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry.
“This includes a range of quotas and safeguards, as set out in the Agreement in Principle document, which provide protection and the ability to reapply tariffs for the next 15 years should volumes exceed specified triggers.”
He added: “Ultimately, there are new opportunities across the world for UK farmers, particularly in Asia
“By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s middle classes will be in Asia, which is creating unheralded new export opportunities for British farming.
“The UK-Australia free trade arrangement is a gateway to joining CPTPP and securing greater access to this lucrative Asian market.
“This is where the future opportunity lies for our farmers, and we are committed to supporting Scotland’s farmers in taking advantage of the benefits of new FTAs.
“I have replied to the Scottish Ministers, including Mairi Gougeon MSP, regarding the deal and Scotland’s agriculture industry and I remain committed to having an open and transparent dialogue with the Scottish Government.”
But Mr Fairlie accused the Minister of failing to scrutinise the deal properly, adding farmers across Perth and Scotland remain “terrified” of the implications of the arrangement.
Mr Fairlie said: “The response provided to me by the Trade Minister was full of the usual bluff and bluster that we have come to expect from the Tories when it comes to the protection of Scotland’s farmers and crofters.
“Despite promising to ensure that our world-class farming produce would not be undercut by the Australian trade deal, the Tories have yet to establish the new Trade and Agriculture Commission to scrutinise these deals and ensure that they do not in fact undercut farmers and crofters.
“I have spoken to a number of farmers across my constituency of Perthshire South and Kinross-shire and all over Scotland who are terrified of the precedent this deal sets. It could provide a blueprint for our vital farming sector to be undercut once again by deals from other countries such as America.
“Farmers and crofters across Scotland cannot trust the Tories to protect their future, they have been totally betrayed and thrown under the Brexit bus, just like our fishing sector. The only way to protect Scotland from the Tories is with an independent Scotland with a government committed to protecting all of Scotland’s vital industries, including agriculture, fisheries and our dynamic food and drink sector.”