Boris confronted with FIVE questions over Australia trade deal – ‘Urgent answers needed!’

Liz Truss shuts down host over UK-Australia trade deal

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UK negotiators, led by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, are reportedly edging closer to offering Australia a trade deal that includes a period of up to 15 years that includes zero-tariffs and zero-quotas. But the proposal has faced a huge backlash from British farmers, who have warned they face being undercut by a wave of meat imports from Australia that could flood the market under a free trade agreement.  Now the National Farmers Union (NFU) have outlined five key questions for the UK Government to urgently answer in relation its future trade policy and the ongoing negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Australia.

The first of these is: “What specific meaningful safeguards for domestic agriculture will be included in our FTAs?”

The NFU want to know from the Government if there are negative impacts, “what safeguards will be included in the agreement and in what circumstances will they be triggered?”

They are also asking if these safeguards will be permanently in place in order for them to operate after the completion of any “phasing in” period of tariff liberalisation.

The second question is: “What is the government’s plan to continually review the impact of our FTAs as they are implemented and through the lifetime of the agreements?”

The NFU argue there are “conflicting projections” as to what kind of impact future FTAs will have on different sectors on UK agriculture.

It added: “The government has repeatedly given assurances that these impacts will be limited and manageable, but it is clear that large-scale tariff liberalisation, even over a period of years, has the potential to impose severe downward pressure on farmgate prices to levels that make farming unviable for many.”

Taking this risk into account, the industry body wants to know how the Government will monitor the impact of future FTAs on an ongoing basis, both in terms of the economic impact on farmers and production and standards of the food important and available on the UK market.

The third question is: “Where is the comprehensive and cross-government strategy to improve productivity and competitiveness and to provide adjustment assistance for farming in respect to the changing market conditions resulting from new FTAs?”

The NFU said with the Government talking up the benefits to UK farmers resulting from FTAs, a single, cross-Government and properly costed strategy is required.

The fourth question is: “Where is the government’s response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report in March 2021 and why has the new statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission that will need to scrutinise trade deals before they are signed not yet been set up?”

The report in question outlines key recommendations on ensuring standards are upheld when the UK strikes trade deals and in particular, emphasised the importance of the Government setting out core standards that would be safeguarded in the trade deals.

But the NFU is demanding to know with the first of those deals now approaching, why the Government’s response hasn’t been made public and how it intends to incorporate those recommendations into that deal.

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The union would also like to know how the Government plans to uphold the sector’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards in FTAs.

The fifth and final question is: “What precedent does the government expect will be set by each FTA and where is the detailed economic assessment of the cumulative impact on domestic UK agriculture of all the UK’s current and future FTAs?”

The NFU argues the Government has made clear the UK’s first FTA will not set a precedent for future deals, and that it should make clear exactly what this means, and how future FTAs will differ.

NFU President Minette Batters said “there remains a huge amount of unanswered questions” and warned “it’s crucial urgent answers are provided to these questions”.

She also warned of “serious implications for British farming” from the proposed trade deal with Australia that would seemingly “offer incredibly little benefit to the economy”.

Ms Batters said: “It is incredibly disappointing to hear news of the government’s trade strategy from sources other than the government themselves, especially when its reported plans will have such a massive impact on British farming.

“There remains a huge amount of unanswered questions about exactly how decisions regarding trade policy have been made, on what basis and how it will operate in the future. It’s crucial urgent answers are provided to these questions.

“It is also incredibly concerning that the government is in a ‘sprint’ to sign up to a trade deal with Australia that would have serious implications for British farming and would seemingly offer incredibly little benefit to the economy.

“We continue to maintain that a tariff-free trade deal with Australia will jeopardise our own farming industry and could cause the demise of many, many beef and sheep farms throughout the UK. This is true whether tariffs are dropped immediately or in 15 years’ time.

She added: “The Prime Minister and his government have pledged to level up the country. Agreeing to a tariff-free trade deal with a major agricultural exporter, with no safeguards or review mechanisms, would do exactly the opposite of that commitment and set swathes of rural Britain backwards.

“It is vital that we have a thriving food production industry. We all saw the importance of this during the height of the pandemic; when government itself described farmers as key workers playing a vital role in delivering the nation’s food.

“We remain of the view that it is wholly irresponsible for government to sign a trade deal with no tariffs or quotas on sensitive products and which therefore undermines our own domestic economy and food production industry.”

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