Food industry cautiously welcomes Australia free trade agreement

By James Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

The UK has agreed a free trade agreement with Australia, eliminating tariffs on exported goods
The UK has agreed a free trade agreement with Australia, eliminating tariffs on exported goods

Related tags: Brexit

Members of the UK food and drink industry have cautiously welcomed the agreement of a free trade deal between the UK and Australia, but questioned the lack of detail surrounding competitiveness and animal welfare.

Today (June 15), prime minster Boris Johnson announced the UK had secured a trade deal with Australia eliminating tariffs on all UK goods, the first trade deal negotiated from scratch by the Government since Brexit.

British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. The Government planned to support agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific.

Secretary of state for international trade Liz Truss said: “This deal delivers for Britain and shows what we can achieve as a sovereign trading nation. It is a fundamentally liberalising agreement that removes tariffs on all British goods, opens new opportunities for our services providers and tech firms, and makes it easier for our people to travel and work together.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

“The agreement paves the way for us to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a £9tr free trade area home to some of the biggest consumer markets of the present and future. Membership will create unheralded opportunities for our farmers, makers, innovators and investors to do business in the future of engine room of the global economy.”

British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Richard Harrow said there was an obvious concern about the possibility of an influx of cheap meat produced to a lower standard, but heralded the possibilities afforded to British producers.

“If the UK has more open access to the Australian market, there may well be opportunities for our frozen prepared food producers to supply the country’s retailers with a range of products, especially in categories where Australian producers don’t have the advanced manufacturing capacity to produce them,”​ he added.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the deal and highlighted the value of trade between the UK and Australia – worth £800m in 2020.

Helping business prepare

“It is now vital that we know the detail of what has been agreed to help businesses understand and begin to prepare for the new terms of trade,”​ said FDF head of international trade Dominic Goudie.

“Food and drink manufacturers will hope that this deal will remove burdensome and unnecessary barriers to trade that will provide a timely boost for our industry’s post-COVID recovery. The terms must also ensure that consumers have continued confidence that any agreement maintains the highest food safety and animal welfare standards.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) was concerned about the lack of details surrounding the ins and outs of the deal, but welcomed the notion that important safeguards would be included in an attempt to strike a balance between liberalising trade and supporting UK farm businesses.

“We await further details of the agreement to understand whether these safeguards are sufficient, and in particular that they can be deployed effectively should imports rise to an unmanageable level leading to significant market disruption,”​ said NFU president Minette Batters.

Animal welfare standards

However, the lack of animal welfare and environmental standards mentioned in the Government’s announcement had raised concerns. Batters questioned how the UK could continue to produce food at higher standards while opening up the market to food potential produced at a lower standard.

“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,”​ Batter added.

“The ultimate test of this trade deal will be whether it contributes to moving farming across the world onto a more sustainable footing, or whether it instead undermines UK farming and merely exports the environmental and animal welfare impact of the food we eat.”

Related topics: Supply Chain, Brexit

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