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  • John McDonnell

UK farmers sound the alarm over the UK/Australia free trade agreement

A few weeks ago, trade minister Dan Tehan was announcing that signature of the UK/Australia free trade agreement was imminent. Now we are told from British sources including the BBC that Boris Johnson’s cabinet is split over the deal and the National Farmers Union is claiming that UK beef and sheep farmers will be wiped out by the deal.

British farmers have just twigged to the fact that beef farmers with herds of forty cows will not be able to compete with Gina Reinhart, who has 40,000 cattle in a feedlot waiting for export at any time. They are calling for quotas on imports of Australian beef and sheep meat.

On the other hand, the UK government is keen to do trade deals in a post-Brexit world and has now indicated that farmers may have to prepare for the lowering of tariffs on agricultural imports.

UK farmers have been hit with a double whammy. When Britain withdrew from the European Union, they lost the subvention payments which the European Commission pays to small European farmers to enable them to survive. At the same time, they are being subjected to competition from more efficient foreign producers.

Not that we should feel sorry for them. These are not poor farmers struggling to survive on the land. Many of them are investment bankers who are in it for the tax breaks. Others are tenant farmers who work for large agri-businesses such as the Duchy of Cornwall, which is owned by Prince Charles and his two sons.

According to the BBC, the UK Department of Trade is more interested in the bigger picture than it is in the future of the farmers. It told the BBC a deal would be "an important stepping-stone" to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sprawling trade group that includes New Zealand, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, as well as Australia.

A deal would "allow UK farmers even greater access to growing consumer markets in Asia", the DIT said, adding that it would not allow importers to undercut the farming industry or food standards.

NFU president Minette Batters said:

"We know that if we're to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return.
"However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly.
"There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities."

Farmers' concerns are reportedly shared by some members of the Cabinet.

The Financial Times reported that Environment Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove are at loggerheads with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Brexit minister Lord Frost over granting tariff-free access to Australian, and possibly New Zealand, farmers.


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