Farmers raise concern as UK and Australia agree trade deal


The UK and Australia have reached a trade agreement which includes a 15-year cap on tariff-free imports despite concerns from farmers over lower-standard goods.

Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison agreed the main elements of the free trade agreement on Monday evening (14 June).

It marks the first major trade deal negotiated by the UK since it left the European Union.

A final 'Agreement in Principle' will be published in the coming days, and parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise it in detail.

Mr Johnson said in a statement: “Today marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values.

“Our new free-trade agreement opens fantastic opportunities for British businesses and consumers, as well as young people wanting the chance to work and live on the other side of the world.”

The new agreement means British products such as Scotch whisky will be cheaper to sell into Australia.

It will also eliminate tariffs on Australian goods such as wine and confectionery.

The UK-Australia trade relationship was worth £13.9bn last year, but the new deal is only forecast to increase the UK's GDP by only 0.02% over 15 years.

The farming industry has raised concerns that producers could be overwhelmed if the market is flooded with lower standard goods from Australia.

Numerous groups have said that any imports must be produced under the same rigorous production and animal welfare standards that UK farmers have to adhere to.

Addressing these concerns, the government said that farmers "will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards."

“We are also supporting agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific,” it said.

It comes as MPs who sit on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee (EFRA) called for 'proper parliamentary scrutiny' on future trade agreements.

And the NFU has also urged the government to issue 'urgent answers' on the UK-Australia trade deal amid fears over lower-standard agri-imports.

The union's president Minette Batters said: “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 Country Land and Business Association (CLA), an organisation representing 28,000 land managers and rural businesses, argued that the UK was right to seek a comprehensive agreement with Australia.

However, it called for provisions to guarantee imports will meet the same standards as in the UK, and TRQs (tariff rate quotas) for sensitive agricultural products.

CLA president Mark Bridgeman said: “British food producers can look with excitement at selling their world class products to new markets.

“But we should also accept that it is perfectly normal for certain protections to be in place for key industries.

“Zero tariffs and zero quotas on agri imports would not just leave British farmers exposed, it shows that the government doesn’t understand one of our biggest strengths.

“The UK has some of the highest environmental and animal welfare standards in the world," Mr Bridgeman said.