'Grave concerns' from Welsh farming unions over terms of Australia trade deal

Farming unions tell ITV Wales of the potential 'catastrophic' impact of the Australia trade deal

Farming unions say they have 'grave concerns' about the terms of the trade deal agreed between Australia and the UK.

The deal will see tariffs on all goods eliminated, with the UK government saying "iconic British products" like cars, Scotch whisky and confectionery will be cheaper to sell.

There had previously been fears from Welsh farmers that a free trade deal would cause "irreversible damage" to their industry, by making it cheaper to buy Australian meat than local produce.

Reacting to the announcement of the broad terms of the trade deal today (15 June), Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) warned that it could lead to a ten-fold increase in imports of Australian beef and a doubling of lamb imports within the first year.

Quoting Australian Government sources, HCC claims that major increases in quotas for red meat imports will take place 'immediately'.

HCC Chief Executive, Gwyn Howells said "The figures from the Australian Government suggest that, under this deal, the country will have an immediate right to export almost ten times as much beef, and twice as much lamb, to the UK as it does now.

“This news will do little to calm fears in our domestic livestock sector concerning the need to keep a level playing field. We produce to high standards in terms of welfare, not using hormones and other supplements used in some production systems overseas.

“We also produce beef and lamb very sustainably. Increasing our dependence on foreign produce risks importing food with a higher carbon footprint, which cannot be positive for our commitments on climate change or our food security.”

The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) have also raised concerns about the deal.

The FUW President said: "We have grave concerns that we could end up with a deal that's catastrophic for animal welfare, the environment, our family farms and our food security - and that it will be set in stone."

Glyn Roberts has called on MPs to fully scrutinise the deal which could see food of 'lower environmental and welfare standards' imported into the UK.

He said: "MPs must do all they can to prevent a culture of 'ignore the warnings, get it done and deal with the consequences later' predominating when it comes to this and other trade deals."

The details were revealed on Tuesday as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived at Downing Street for a meeting with Boris Johnson. Credit: PA Images

The Prime Minister said the deal does protect British farmers as they will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards.

Boris Johnson has said he is also supporting farmers to increase their exports overseas, by opening up new markets in the Indo-Pacific.

Boris Johnson says British farmers will be protected in the deal.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) Cymru has said it will need to see the details of the 15-year cap before reaching a decision on whether Welsh and British farmers are being protected.

John Davies, NFU Cymru President, said "At this stage it is very difficult to see what tangible benefits this trade agreement is going to deliver for our network of Welsh family farms, while the likely negative impacts of increased imports over time are a lot more apparent.

"NFU Cymru has made clear its concerns that this trade agreement with Australia could adversely affect our ambitions to sustainably grow the £7.5 billion Welsh food and drink industry - Wales' biggest employer."

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

Mr Davies has said that the deal is significant in paving the way for future deals which he worries could set a precedent.

“There can be no doubt that today’s announcement of a trading agreement, whether phased or not, is a signal of UK Government’s intentions for future trade partnerships and there is a very real risk that a precedent has been set here.

"I am sure that negotiators for New Zealand, Canada, USA and Mexico will all want to see at least this level of access as they negotiate free trade agreements with the UK Government and the cumulative impact of these increased agri-food imports, even if they are staggered, needs to be carefully weighed up by government."

Both NFU Cymru and FUW have called for the agreement to be critically examined before it is finalised.

Mr Davies said: "It is vital that the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission is set-up to critically examine the detail of this free trade agreement as it is finalised. UK Parliament and devolved governments must have the opportunity to properly consider its ramifications.

"It is also crucial that our Welsh MPs scrutinise this deal very carefully and consider what it will mean in real terms for the Welsh family farms and rural communities they represent."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: "We understand an agreement has been reached on the UK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA). However, we have yet to be formally notified about the details of the deal. The Minister for Economy will be meeting the UK Government’s Minister of State for Trade Policy this afternoon to discuss the deal.

"While an FTA could bring potential benefits to Wales, for example for a range of Welsh service providers, we have been clear throughout the negotiations that any trade deal must not disadvantage Welsh producers or compromise the high quality standards that are so important to us in Wales.

"We will scrutinise the detail of the agreement and will, in due course, publish a report detailing the potential impacts on Wales and our considered position on the agreement."

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