Australia trade deal: Expert discusses impact on Scottish farming
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The UK Government is working to strike global trade deals after Brexit. If the Australian one is successful, it will mark one of the first major deals agreed with Britain as an independent nation. However, concerns over how the deal could affect UK farmers have reportedly split the Cabinet, with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss saying negotiators were “in a sprint” to secure an agreement in principle by early June.
What is in the UK-Australia trade deal?
The deal being negotiated is a zero-tariffs free-trade deal.
A free trade deal aims to encourage trade – usually in goods but occasionally in services – by making it cheaper.
This is often achieved by reducing or eliminating tariffs – taxes or charges by governments for trading goods across borders.
Trade agreements also aim to remove quotas, which are limits on the amount of goods that can be traded.
If the Australia deal is successful, it is estimated that it could add £500m ($694m) to UK GDP over the long term.
Ms Truss said the trade deal between the two countries “will help us emerge stronger from the pandemic, strengthening ties between two democracies who share a fierce belief in freedom, enterprise and fair play”.
The deal hasn’t been finalised, but a joint statement from negotiators said they were “confident the remaining issues will be resolved”.
Why is it controversial?
Concerns are growing over the impact the deal could have on UK farmers.
There are fears huge Australian cow and sheep farms could undercut UK rivals.
The UK Government has indicated the agricultural sector may have to prepare for the lowering of tariffs on imports, with the Cabinet reportedly split over whether this deal will be good or bad for the industry.
Farming unions have warned of “irreversible damage” from a bad deal.
What could the deal mean for British farmers?
Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon has written to Ms Truss, arguing that “a trade deal that liberalises tariffs for Australian farmers, to put it bluntly, will put UK farmers out of business”.
She also suggested imposing quotas to control imports of lamb and beef, which must be “duly maintained and not eroded over time”.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in Westminster, said the deal showed the Prime Minister was willing to “throw farmers and crofters under the Brexit bus”.
Boris Johnson replied that an agreement with Australia would be a “massive opportunity” for UK farmers.
Ms Truss said she was confident British farmers would “thrive” under a deal with Australia, adding it would have “benefits for all nations and regions” of the UK.
Senior UK ministers are expected to meet on Thursday morning to discuss the deal and the impact on farming.
Environment Secretary George Eustice has allegedly raised a number of concerns about the deal trading away farmers’ interests.
And Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is also said to be concerned.
One compromise Mr Eustice has suggested is to negotiate quotas on Australian meat imports – so that only a limited amount could be tariff-free.
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