NFU President Minette Batters has responded to the UK and Australia finalising a free trade agreement, raising concerns that there appears to be very little in the deal to benefit British farmers.
Mrs Batters said: “As we feared following the agreement in principle, there appears to be extremely little in this deal to benefit British farmers. We will analyse the detail in full but on the face of it, this is a one-sided deal. When it comes to agriculture, the Australians have achieved all they have asked for and British farmers are left wondering what has been secured for them.
“In particular, it is disappointing that the UK government has capitulated to Australian demands to time-limit any safeguards for sensitive sectors. Despite assurances that these sectors would be afforded some level of protection, we will see full liberalisation of dairy after just six years, sugar after eight years and beef and lamb after 15 years.
“There will also be no safeguards available for any products if imports reach damaging levels after that 15 years is up. Just as concerningly, the UK has agreed to beef and lamb quotas which will favour imports of high-value cuts, despite this being the end of the market where British farmers tend to derive any value from their hard work.
“It’s also difficult to discern anything in this deal that will allow us to control imports of food produced below the standards legally required of British farmers, for instance on land deforested for cattle production or systems that rely on the transport of live animals in a way that would be illegal here.
“Ultimately, this deal simply serves to heap further pressure on farm businesses at a time when they are facing extraordinary inflationary pressure and sustained labour shortages, an issue the entire food supply chain agreed needed urgent action at a cross-sector summit earlier this week.
“The government needs to level with farmers about the commercial reality of this and ditch the soundbites that lost any meaning a long time ago. It needs to set out a detailed agri-food export strategy, with complementary policies that will enable UK farmers to compete and adjust. We have seen some progress as the government begins to set out its export strategy, but much, much more is needed and implementing our three-point plan for getting farming ‘match-ready’ would be a good start.
“I hope that MPs will now take a good, hard look at this deal to see if it really does match up to the government’s rhetoric to support our farmers’ businesses and safeguard our high animal welfare and environmental standards. I fear they will be disappointed.”