Liz Truss today hit out at the ‘defeatist narrative that British agriculture can’t compete’ on the world stage as she defended the Government’s new trade deal with Australia.
British farmers fear a wave of cheap Australian lamb and beef imports produced to lower standards could put them out of business.
But Ms Truss said farmers will have time to adapt due to a 15 year transition period which means ‘Australian farmers will only have the same access to the UK market as EU farmers do in 2036’.
Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, Emily Thornberry, accused Ms Truss of breaking promises to protect UK farmers as she warned the favourable terms granted to Australian agriculture will also be demanded by other countries.
Liz Truss today hit out at the ‘defeatist narrative that British agriculture can’t compete’ on the world stage as she defended the Government’s new trade deal with Australia
Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison announced the trade deal had been agreed earlier this week. They posed with a variety of British and Australian goods, including a personalised ‘Boris’ Vegemite jar at Downing Street on Tuesday
UK farmers fear being undercut by cheap beef and lamb imports from Australia. The new trading rules relating to farming will be phased in over a 15 year period
Cheaper Aussie wine and British-made cars: What the new trade deal will mean for consumers in each country
The trade deal agreed between the UK and Australia will eliminate tariffs on imports and exports.
That means that goods made in each country and then exported to the other for sale should soon be cheaper than they are currently.
The scrapping of tariffs is expected to represent a significant boost for the massive Australian agriculture sector, paving the way for cheaper lamb and beef on supermarket shelves in the UK.
But UK farmers fear they will be unable to compete with the cheap imports and have also expressed concerns that Australian goods are produced to lower animal welfare standards than in Britain.
The free trade deal should also mean cheaper Australian wine from brands like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys.
Australian clothing and confectionary exports to the UK should also be cheaper, with the UK Government predicting British households will save £34 million a year in total.
The deal should result in the slashing of prices in Australia on popular British products like cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics.
For example, Scotland exported £126million of beverages to Australia in 2020 and the deal will help distillers to remove tariffs of up to five per cent on Scotch whisky.
Mining machinery and manufacturing goods made in Northern Ireland and sold in Australia – 90 per cent of all exports from the province to the country are made up of those items – should be made cheaper.
Car manufacturers in the Midlands and north of England will also benefit from a tariff cut of up to five per cent which should boost demand for their exports.
The UK-Australia trade relationship was worth just shy of £14billion last year but both sides are hoping that figure will surge in the wake of the deal being implemented.
Speaking in the House of Commons this morning, Ms Truss said: ‘We have agreed a truly historic deal which is the first negotiated from scratch by the United Kingdom since leaving the European Union.
‘This gold standard agreement shows what the UK is capable of as a sovereign trading nation.’
She added: ‘Our Australia deal shows that Global Britain is a force for free and fair trade around the world. We believe in 21st Century trade, we don’t see it as a zero sum game like our critics who doubt we can compete and win in the global markets.’
Ms Truss said the transition period to the new trading arrangements would provide a cushion for British farmers.
‘We have agreed 15 years of capped tariff free imports from Australia which means that Australian farmers will only have the same access to the UK market as EU farmers do in 2036,’ she told MPs.
‘We should use this time to expand our beef and lamb exports to the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) markets which are expected to account for a quarter of global meat demand by 2030.
‘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.
‘This Australia deal is a key step to joining the trans-Pacific partnership, a market of 500million people.’
But Ms Thornberry blasted the deal and said it showed Ms Truss is ‘not up to the job’.
She said: ‘British farmers left worse off as a result of her deal: Another broken promise and more to come when New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and America demand the same deal for their exports.’
Labour has demanded the deal be put to a formal vote in the Commons but the Government has said that will not happen.
Ms Truss said yesterday the pact with Australia will act as a ‘stepping stone’ to a wider trans-Pacific trade accord as she rejected farmers’ concerns about the agreement.
The Government has insisted British farmers will be protected and given time to adapt, with the elimination of tariffs on Australian imports happening over the 15 year period.
Ms Truss said the deal will provide British farmers with greater opportunities to sell their produce to new markets as she told them to ‘stop being defensive’.
The Australia deal is forecast to add between 0.01 per cent to 0.02 per cent to the size of the economy but Ms Truss defended the pact and said it would position the UK well to access emerging markets.
She told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme: ‘The numbers you are talking about, that is a static analysis of the world as it is now.
‘What we are seeing is a huge rise in trade with the Asia-Pacific market. Australia is important in itself – we are likely to see a 30% increase in trade with Australia by 2030.’
She added it is ‘also a stepping stone to the trans-Pacific partnership which is a major deal with 11 countries in the Pacific region, population 500 million, and what we are seeing is that is a very fast-growing part of the world where there is huge demand for British goods’.
The UK wants to join the CPTPP with countries including Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
Farmers and animal welfare campaigners are concerned the deal with Australia will lead to cheaper imports undercutting British meat which is produced to higher standards.
NFU president Minette Batters said: ‘We will need to know more about any provisions on animal welfare and the environment to ensure our high standards of production are not undermined by the terms of this deal.’
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood warned it is legal in Australia to mutilate the rear end of sheep, while chicken can be washed with chlorine and almost half of cattle are given growth hormones.
The Government has dismissed the claims of British farmers being left unable to compete because of a surge in cheap Australian imports, claiming that most of the country’s produce is sold in Asia.
‘Australia mainly sell into the Asia-Pacific markets, which have much higher prices than here in the UK and Europe,’ Ms Truss said.
‘But what the deal will also enable us to do is get more opportunities for our farmers in those markets like Vietnam, like those other markets, where there is growing demand for British beef and lamb.
Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, Emily Thornberry, accused Ms Truss of breaking promises to protect UK farmers as she warned the favourable terms granted to Australian agriculture will also be demanded by other countries
‘So we need to look outwards. I think we’ve got to stop being defensive and look at where the opportunities are.’
Ms Truss has guaranteed that hormone-injected beef will remain banned in the UK while ‘there is virtually no trade in products like chickens because it is so far away’.
Ms Truss added: ‘Australia has some very high animal welfare standards and in fact in some cases they are higher standards than many EU countries, where we already have a quota-free, tariff-free deal.’
Under the terms of the deal, tariffs for beef and sheep meat will be eliminated after 10 years, with a duty-free quota of 35,000 tonnes of beef initially, rising to 110,000 tonnes at the end of that period, and 25,000 tonnes of sheep meat, rising to 75,000 tonnes.
In the subsequent five years there will be safeguard measures aimed at ensuring Australian meat does not flood the market. Details were published by Canberra but not the UK Government.
Downing Street said some of the final details of the agreement are still being worked through and agreed and it will be published in full once that has happened.