UK – Australia Trade Deal

UK - Australia Trade Deal

The Government has insisted that British farmers will be ‘protected’ by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, but it is not yet known how much Australian produce will be allowed to enter the UK under quota during this time. The initial belief is that for Beef imports the Year One quota will start at 35,000 tonnes, increasing over 10 years to a potential 110,000 tonnes. For Sheep imports the Year One quota is believed to potentially start at 25,000 tonnes, increasing over 10 years to 75,000 tonnes.

As the details of the deal have not yet been published, these figures are not confirmed and it is unlikely we will know these until the Bill is in black and white. It is also unclear whether other products will be granted additional access to the UK market – a key ask of Australian negotiators was around the import of Cane Sugar.

The announcement appears to have made no mention of animal welfare and environmental standards. The UK government has previously been keen to highlight how our Free Trade Agreements will uphold our high standards of food production, however, there has always been a question mark over how this can be achieved while opening up our markets to food produced to different standards. Farmers 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.

A post created by the RSPCA has been circulating on social media platforms, showing that Australian farming involves a number of practices which are outlawed in the UK, including keeping hens in battery cages and allowing cattle to be reared in feedlots without shade. Cattle transportation times are also double those allowed in the UK, and Australian farm antibiotic use is significantly higher than the UK.

Essentially signing a trade deal with Australia which eliminates tariffs on cheap, low standard meat imports will mean the UK Government breaks its own manifesto commitment to protect British food standards. It also ignores the more than two million people who signed petitions on this issue in 2020 and the recommendations of its own Trade Commission.

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.

It is critical that the government now engages with industry on the details of the deal as soon as possible and that Parliament is involved much more during the final stages of the negotiations to ensure it has sufficient oversight and scrutiny of the agreement. This means providing both Houses with the details well in advance of ratification alongside a proper impact assessment so Parliament can ensure it is satisfied that this deal is right for all of the UK – consumers, workers, farmers and other businesses alike.