Boris Johnson today hailed the UK’s historic new trade agreement with Australia as he insisted it will ‘benefit’ British farmers who fear they will be unable to compete with cheap beef and lamb imports.
Mr Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed the broad terms of the pact last night over dinner in Downing Street before confirming the deal at a bilateral meeting this morning.
The pair exchanged hampers of goods to mark the occasion, with Mr Johnson handing his counterpart a packet of Penguin biscuits while the PM received some Australian Tim Tam bars.
The British premier said the deal ‘will be good news for the agricultural sector on both sides’ and that negotiations had been ‘very hard’.
He stressed that the new trade rules for farmers will be phased in over a 15 year transition period and it contains the ‘strongest possible’ protections for UK farmers.
The accord with Australia is Britain’s first from-scratch trade deal with a country since Brexit and Mr Johnson said it will be a ‘prelude to further deals’.
His comments came as UK farmers blasted the decision to grant their Australian counterparts unfettered access to the British market, warning it could be ‘fatal’ for many small domestic farms.
Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured at No10 today) agreed the broad terms of the pact last night with full details expected to be unveiled in the coming days
The deal will grant Australian farmers unfettered access to the UK market and their British counterparts believe that could be ‘fatal’ for many small domestic farms
The deal is expected to grant Australian farmers unfettered access to the UK market and their British counterparts believe that could be ‘fatal’ for many small domestic farms.
Michael Gove immediately moved to try to assuage concerns as he insisted there will be ‘protections’ for UK farmers
Michael Gove had earlier moved to try to assuage concerns as he insisted there will be ‘protections’ for UK farmers.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office also played down the prospect of a wave of cheap imports as he stressed that Asia is Australia’s ‘principal’ export market for meat.
He also claimed that farming practices in Australia had been ‘mischaracterised’ in the debate surrounding the deal.
Many Australian farms are much larger than those in the UK enabling them to produce cheaper goods.
British farmers have also raised concerns about animal welfare and food standards which are lower in Australia.
The new trade deal between the UK and Australia was finalised by Mr Johnson and Mr Morrison over dinner in Downing Street last night.
It will eliminate tariffs on all UK goods exported to Australia which means British car, Scotch whisky and confectionary will all be cheaper to sell there.
It will also eliminate tariffs on Australian exports to the UK which will mean cheaper Australian wine from producers like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys.
Total trade between the two nations was worth £13.9billion in 2020 but they are hoping that figure will now surge.
The new deal will also allow Brits under the age of 35 the ability to travel and work in Australia more freely.
On the crunch issue of farming, UK farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards, enabling a smooth transition to the new arrangements.
UK farmers are against zero-tariff access because they believe they could be undercut by cheap Australian imports.
The deal with Australia is the first full trade agreement struck by Britain with another country since it left the EU.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Today marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values.
‘Our new free-trade agreement opens fantastic opportunities for British businesses and consumers, as well as young people wanting the chance to work and live on the other side of the world.
‘This is global Britain at its best – looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and help ensure every part of the country builds back better from the pandemic.’
But Russell Osborne, a farmer in St Ives, Cornwall, told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that he believes the deal will force him to retire within the next two years.
He said: ‘Basically we can’t compete. The average size beef farm in England now I believe is about 60 to 80 head of animals.
‘When you are looking at lots in Australia, south America, of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of animals in big feed lots that won’t ever see a view that my cattle have here right now, won’t ever eat a blade of grass that has grown off the field.
‘It just does seem so wrong. How on earth are we meant to compete with that? We can’t possibly.’
Robin Traquair, the vice president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, said the agreement will mean ‘a lot of change’ and he fears it will the impact of future trade deals with other countries if they are offered on similar terms.
He said: ‘There is talk of 15 years timing in, but to be honest we haven’t actually seen the detail of what exactly is going to happen and we are worried about welfare standards, we are worried the different scales and indeed it is not just necessarily Australia.
‘As you say, this is the first sort of new way of trading with other countries for some time and on the new FTA, it is other countries that come off the back of this.
‘We are going to have a Pacific deal, a New Zealand deal, there could be an American deal, there could be a Brazil deal and it is all of these countries that add to the mix and we just don;t know how we are going to trade with and how much product will come into the country, at what price, at what welfare standards, because many countries have lower standards than what we have got here.’
Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, (pictured today) has led the UK negotiating team in talks with Australia
Asked if a 15 year transition would be enough to meet his concerns, he said: ‘Well, we need to know the starting point as well… the way the Government lets us know what’s happening and all such like, we have to know the detail before we start. We are very nervous.
‘It is a bit like having a parachute, we just don’t know how big it is going to be.
‘We will hit the ground at some time, it is just is it going to be fatal or is it just going to be life changing.’
Mr Gove defended the trade deal during an interview on Sky News as he said it will provide UK farmers with more export opportunities.
He said: ‘I personally am a great fan of Welsh lamb and Scottish lamb and I think that consumers will be free to make their choice.
‘But I think it is also worth pointing out that the majority of meat which is reared and raised in Australia goes to the Asian market and that is their principal and growing market.
‘Overall, Australia is a friend and ally and I think there have been one or two points that have been made about Australia during the course of this debate that mischaracterise how Australian farmers operate and the opportunities also for UK farmers.
‘So it is important that we maintain protections and support for farmers but it is also the case that opening up trade barriers, or rather bringing them down and opening up new opportunities provides our farmers with the chance to show on the world stage the amazing quality of UK produce.’
The UK Government has estimated the positive impact of the deal on Australia’s gross domestic product – the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year – as being somewhere between 0.01 per cent and 0.06 per cent.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who held talks in London earlier this year with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, has called the pact a ‘win for jobs, businesses, free trade and highlights what two liberal democracies can achieve while working together’.
Australian British Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer David McCredie tweeted that the deal will create ‘many great opportunities for trade, investment and collaboration’.
Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who sits on the UK Board of Trade, told GB News said Britain will ‘cope’ with the deal and he is confused ‘that so many people in Britain are always running the country down’.
He said: ‘Britain can cope. And a trade deal with one of Britain’s friends… that’s no threat to the people of Britain, this is going to help the people of Britain.’