Prime Minister defends 'ambition' for Welsh farmers but refuses to rule out tariff-free Australian deal

  • Watch the video report by ITV Wales Rural Affairs Correspondent Hannah Thomas

The Prime Minister and Welsh Secretary have both hit back at claims that the UK Government is planning to betray Welsh farmers in a new trade deal with Australia. 

But neither would rule out the prospect of a “tariff-free” deal which is what is causing such concern amongst farmers’ leaders.

Farming unions have been warning that the reported trade deal will cause “irreversible damage” by reducing import taxes, known as tariffs, on Australian lamb to zero over the next 15 years.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales, which is meeting with ministers in the UK Government’s Department for International Trade today, say that the concerns “are well-founded.”

Farmers are concerned that a tariff-free trade deal with Australia on lamb and beef will cause 'irreversible damage' to Welsh agriculture. Credit: PA Images

In the Commons, Boris Johnson insisted that he continues to back Welsh farmers and criticised opponents for lacking ‘ambition’ for British agriculture. 

He was challenged by Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams who said, “In 2019 before visiting Wales, the prime minister said, ‘I will always back Britain's great farmers.’

"Now it looks as if he's backing Australia's farmers instead. So will he today keep to his with word clearly back Welsh farmers permanently rule out tariff-free  access for Australian lamb and beef imports?”

In response the Prime Minister said, “I will back Britain’s farmers and Welsh farmers in exporting their fantastic lamb around the world.

"Is it not a disgrace that not a single morsel of Welsh lamb has passed the lips of the Americans in the last 20 years or more, Mr Speaker? What about China, Mr Speaker?

"Has he no ambition for the people of this country over the people of Wales or for Welsh farmers? I do, this government does, Mr Speaker, that’s why we’re getting on with our agenda.”

Boris Johnson wouldn't rule out the prospect of a “tariff-free” deal which is what is causing such concern amongst farmers’ leaders. Credit: House of Commons/PA

Speaking after the session, Mr Williams said that “By refusing to rule out tariff free access for Australian agricultural produce, the Prime Minister is again showing his willingness to sacrifice Welsh agriculture for cheap political gain.”

Earlier the Welsh Secretary insisted that any free trade agreement with Australia “will not under-cut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.”

Simon Hart had been asked by the Shadow Wales minister Gerald Jones what he had “done personally… to guarantee that Welsh agricultural producers do not lose out from the proposed deal with Australia.”

Mr Hart replied: "As far as the rumours around the Australia FTA, I should point out to him of course that no deal has been done, but if and when it is done it will include protections for the agricultural industry and will not under-cut UK farmers or compromise our high standards."

A Plaid Cymru MP asked Mr Johnson to back Welsh farmers by permanently ruling out tariff-free access for Australian lamb and beef import. Credit: PA Images

There have been reports of a deep split within the UK Government over the proposed deal.

President of the Farmers Union of Wales, Glyn Roberts, said his union will “fully support those within government who are fighting such proposals.“

“In our view the British and Welsh public agree with our commitment to animal welfare and environmental standards and they would support our call for access to UK markets to be restricted to products that can match our strict standards. 

 “Our own administrations are busily ratcheting up controls and restrictions for farmers which are already well above those required in countries such as Australia, so the prospect of deals that liberalise imports of food from such places produced in ways which would be illegal here in the UK is unacceptable and hypocritical.”

Meanwhile, the First Minister said he intends to raise his concerns about the proposed trade deal with the UK Government in a meeting this evening. 

Mark Drakeford told Senedd Members that he will discuss the matter at the weekly meeting cabinet office minister Michael Gove holds with First Minsters of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

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