The UK signed its first “from scratch” free trade agreement with Australia on
First, I would like to wish the Anglesey Agricultural Society good luck with the Anglesey show, which I understand is in August. I look forward to an invitation and an excuse to pay a visit.
The UK-Australia trade deal could boost Wales’s economy by around £60 million. Welsh farmers will benefit from the opportunities to sell their produce in Australia, and Welsh manufacturers could benefit from new procurement opportunities and enhanced business mobility provisions. Many small businesses will also enjoy greater access to Australia.
Will my right hon. Friend provide a specific description of the protections and safeguards that are in place for farmers, particularly in Scotland, and what recent engagement her Department has had with National Farmers Union Scotland and other Scottish food production trade bodies?
The UK has secured a range of measures to safeguard our farmers, including tariff-rate quotas for a number of sensitive agricultural products, product-specific safeguards for beef and sheep meat, and a general bilateral safeguard mechanism providing a temporary safety net if an industry faces serious injury from increased imports as a direct consequence of the agreement. The NFU, Salmon Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Association are trade advisory group members which were consulted throughout negotiations and regular meetings, and we will continue to engage with the NFU and other Scottish agricultural bodies to understand the impact on the industry.
Following on from that, the Government’s own impact assessment shows a £94 million hit to farming, forestry and fishing sectors, and a £225 million hit to the semi-processed food industry. The Government have also negotiated first-year tariff-free allowances of a 6,000% increase on Australian-imported beef to the UK. Can the Secretary of State outline what conversations that she has had with the NFU, specifically about the impact of that deal on British agriculture?
We have continual and regular discussions with the NFU and other agriculture bodies. As I have just said, they have been integrally involved in the discussions all the way through, and I know that the ministerial team will continue to meet them. I believe that my Minister responsible for exports will be having a meeting with them next week.
Unseemly haste in securing as many free trade deals as quickly as possible and at massive expense in pursuit of a press release and a picture with some TimTams is not the optimal trade policy that people deserve. Scotland’s farming and fishing sectors are paying the price for this public relations jamboree masquerading as trade policy. The UK Government’s own figures show domestic agriculture, forestry and fishing will suffer a £94 million hit just from the Australia deal. Scottish producers saw established routes to EU markets needlessly frustrated by this UK Government’s Brexit dogma. Will the Minister therefore apologise to Scotland’s economy?
I am disappointed that moving to having new free trade agreements with some of the great economies of the world is considered unseemly haste. We are working at pace and alongside all our UK businesses with a clear and mandated consultation process to ensure that we are pitching for the areas of business in which our businesses want to see growth. The EU market continues to be there under our fantastic markets. Part of the work that the Export Support Service is doing is to ensure that those who already export can do so more easily and indeed that, for those who have not yet considered exporting to the EU, the opportunities and the support services are there to assist them.
In 2019-20, trade in goods and services between Australia and the UK was valued at £20.1 billion. Currently, the trade in meat products between the two countries is very small. Specifically, I want to ask this: what steps has the Minister taken to ensure that there is more focus on the trade of meat produce from the UK to Australia, to the advantage of people and farmers in Northern Ireland?
One of the new tools in our armoury will be the trade and agriculture commissioners—experts who will be there to help UK businesses that want to take their products into new markets, including Australia. I have no doubt at all that, just as we enjoy Australian wine, we will have the opportunity to see Northern Ireland meat on the plates of the Australians.
Free trade agreements should be fair to both partners. The Australian FTA—dare I say it, like the Ashes cricket series—is a bit one-sided in favour of Australia. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the farmers in Cumbria and across the UK that the safeguard mechanisms in the agreement will have teeth? For instance, if the Australian meat market were to pivot away from Asia towards Europe, would the tariff rate quota mechanism be effective in turning down the supply of meat so that our fantastic British farmers are not undermined?
Yes, I am confident that the safeguards we have brought in, which I am happy to set out again, will support the most sensitive parts of the UK farming community. They include a general bilateral safeguard mechanism that provides a safety net for all those products, staged liberalisation, tariff rate quotas and specific safeguards for beef and sheep meat, which will be there to support fantastic British produce. Again, I encourage everyone to sing loudly about how fantastic our British produce is. It is eaten from plates across the UK and around the world. We will continue to see that finest produce enjoyed by all.
I thank the Secretary of State for not mentioning the cricket.