What’s the beef with the Australian Free Trade Deal ?

“ Scotland’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors are particularly exposed should a deal be rushed through with Australia that fails to strike the right balance. “

Martin Kennedy NFU Scotland President

On the 31st of January 2020 the UK formally left the largest free trade market in the world – the EU – after an advisory referendum with a Leave narrow win. The rules governing the new relationship between the EU and UK took effect on 1 January 2021.

The UK is now in the process of negotiating separate trade agreements with other countries in the world and on 17th June 2020 it started negotiations with Australia. The 5th round of these negotiations started on 4th May 2021.

Australia is seeking an ambitious and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) that drives increased trade in goods and services, two-way investment, economic growth and job creation. An FTA with the UK also signals our shared commitment to open markets, free trade and the rules-based global trading system.

Australia will advocate for liberal Rules of Origin (RoO) that facilitate market access and reflect modern production processes, global value chains and commercial transportation arrangements.  

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

When the UK was a member of the EU it had to abide by strict food and drink production regulations. Scotland had several products that had protected named status. This was an additional layer of protection for the high quality food and drink produced in Scotland.

These marks of top quality and geographic protection ensured that products with those marks could command higher prices. Membership of the EU also meant we benefited from free trade access to member countries, the envy of the world.

Well all that is gone now. That is why the UK has to negotiate all these deals.

An added issue is that the management of agriculture is a devolved issue but the UK Government has not involved the Scottish Government in these negotiations.

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon Image credit Scottish Government

Scotland’s newly appointed Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon MSP has written to the  Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade in the UK Government about concerns arising from threats to our food standards from the proposed deal with Australia.

In her letter Mairi Gougeon said:

“Australia must not undercut Scotland’s world leading food standards or lead to a zero tariff / quota agreement.

“At a time when UK agri-food producers are facing significantly greater barriers to trade with Europe – the sector’s largest export market – it would be incomprehensible for the UK Government to sign up to a trade deal that would facilitate mass imports of Australian agri-food produced to a lesser standard.

“A trade deal that liberalises tariffs for Australian farmers, to put it bluntly, will put UK farmers out of business.”

Producing quality meat, grass fed cattle, in our small mostly family run farms, is quite costly. Good food and maintaining high welfare standards of animals is what we have an international reputation for in Scotland.

Cattle production in Australia is completely different , for both beef and dairy, it is really big business.

“the beef cattle industry is the largest contributor to Australian agriculture. More than half of the total 123 000 farms in Australia are engaged in cattle production, with those farms managing more than 75 per cent of Australia’s agricultural land.”

“In northern Australia average herd size is 1 576 head per farm, with the majority of cattle held on a relatively small number of very large properties. For southern Australia, a large number of relatively small-scale farms results in average herd size of 412 head per farm”

Beef and Cattle Report

In recent years the smaller farms in Australia have struggled and many have given up.

The USA is the largest importer of Australian beef for ‘low value manufacturing beef for use in the food service industry, particularly hamburger chains’ (Meat and Livestock Australia, Market snapshot, United States, MLA, Sydney, 2016.)

Access to the UK , with no tariffs ,a ‘liberal’ attitude to Rules of Origin, is what Australia very much wants because it opens up a huge new market for its product. It will be able to flood our supermarkets with a much cheaper product than Scots farmers are able to produce.

Scotland’s Agricultural sector has been making huge strides to address climate change. Set up by the former Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Fergus Ewing, our industry is involved in a transition which you can read about here: “A blueprint for sustainable and integrated farming and crofting activity in the hills and uplands of Scotland”

Ironically the UK Government is seeking to transport beef to undercut our farmers prices, from one side of the world to the other, thousands of miles.

The National Farmers Union in Scotland is very concerned about the Australia Deal and a proposed one with New Zealand.

NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said:

“ Scotland’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors are particularly exposed should a deal be rushed through with Australia that fails to strike the right balance.

“While some additional market access and tariff liberalisation is expected in this post-Brexit era, all deals must be properly scrutinised and ratified to avoid any risks to the future viability of the farming sector.

“Rushing through a trade deal without the promised statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission in place prior to the deal being concluded also sets a damaging precedent for other trade deals.

“The public has shown unprecedented levels of support for the exceptionally high standards met by the nation’s farmers and it is inherent on the Government to meet its commitment of having a statutory body in place to independently assess and comment on proposed trade deals.  

“UK consumers already enjoy some of the most affordable food in the world produced to the highest standards.  Employment, the prosperity of rural areas and our high standards should not be jeopardised for the sake a headline-grabbing deal.”  

Image credit: Bell

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

5 replies »

  1. Maybe being simplistic again …but…why bring meat all the way from Australia, when we have very good meat, right here?

    And – what about the ‘Green’ side of this issue? All those miles of burning fuel to … bring coals to Newcastle?

    I am, once again, very confused by the modern world.

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