Fears have been cited that the accord, announced yesterday by Downing Street, will open the floodgates for the mass import of cheaper, lower-quality meat before any protective tariffs are set in place.
Furthermore, there are apprehensions over a lack of detail regarding animal welfare and environmental safeguards in the agreement.
Boris Johnson finalised the “historic” in-principle agreement during talks at Downing Street with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
"Today marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values," UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted as saying.
Outlining the benefits that the deal offered all four nations of the UK, Downing Street said it would remove tariffs of up to 5% on Scotch whisky, UK cars, and confections. The agreement, which government forecasts suggest will boost UK GDP by about 0.025% over 15 years, will also grant UK citizens under the age of 35 a chance to travel and work in Australia more freely by scrapping the requirement for farm work.
Speaking alongside Morrison at No. 10 on Tuesday, Johnson vowed the deal would encompass strict rules regarding animal welfare.
“Here, we had to negotiate very hard and I want everybody to understand that this is a sensitive sector for both sides and we’ve got a deal that runs over 15 years and contains the strongest possible provisions for animal welfare.”
Johnson added, "I think it is a good deal and I think it’s one that will benefit British farmers and British consumers as well.”
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan referenced the Free Trade Agreement, as he said in a statement:
“Both prime ministers have held a positive meeting in London overnight and have resolved outstanding issues in relation to the FTA. Their agreement is a win for jobs, businesses, free trade and highlights what two liberal democracies can achieve while working together.”
As Downing Street declined to go into the details of the newly-penned pact, promising that the in-principle accord would soon be published, it was emphasised that farmers would be protected by “a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards”.
Despite assurances offered by Downing Street, the comments made by Australia’s trade ministry have fed into a chorus of concerns.
Main problems with the Australian tradedeal https://t.co/YXh5caXVcT— Kerssemakers (@Roelandpaul) June 15, 2021
Dan Tehan, Australia’s Minister for Trade, said tariffs for farming imports into the UK would stop in five years for dairy products, ten years for beef and lamb, and after eight years for sugar.
However, the UK Labour Party was quick to warn that even while the tariffs are in place, Australian farmers will be allowed tariff-free quotas that are so high that the levies will be rendered effectively meaningless.
The beef tariff quota would start at 35,000 tonnes, rising annually throughout the tariff period. Tariffs on sheep meat products will start at 25,000 tonnes a year, and sugar at 80,000 tonnes.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow international trade secretary, warned the terms of the deal “will send thousands of farmers to the wall”.
“No other country in the world would accept such a terrible deal for its farming industry, and neither should we. Any Tory MP backing this deal today needs to have a hard look in the mirror, and ask how they would react if it had been proposed by Brussels instead,” said Thornberry.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) also cited concerns and called for more information about the deal.
“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,” said NFU president, Minette Batters.
Busy hour of interviews coming up on the UK-Australia free trade agreement. Here's where you can tune in 👀👂— National Farmers' Union (@NFUtweets) June 15, 2021
📻 @HertsFarmer on @TimesRadio with @mariellaf1 shortly
📻 @Minette_Batters on @BBCWorldatOne at 1.15pm
📺 @Minette_Batters on @SkyNews at 1.30pm.
Downing Street vowed the UK’ standards on food production would not be compromised, adding that import of hormone-treated beef would not be allowed.
While MPs will be granted a 21-day scrutiny of the deal in parliament later in the year, once an independent impact assessment is concluded by the newly established trade and agriculture commission, they will not be granted a vote on whether it comes into force.