The UK trade deal with Australia is bad for British farmers, says Fen Tiger.
British farmers – and livestock producers in particular – are set to pay a hefty price for the government’s eagerness to do a trade deal with Australia.
Announced last month following the G7 summit in Cornwall, the trade agreement will open up the British market to Australian farmers. In time, tariff-free beef could reach these shores from Australia and flood our domestic market.
Currently Australia pays a 20% tariff on all exports of beef and lamb. The government insists the floodgates will remain closed. But it is hard to see how they will stay shut when tariffs are removed – even if they are being phased out over 15 years.
International trade secretary Liz Truss has negotiated a deal that makes it impossible for British farmers to compete with Australian beef – no matter that it is shipped here from the other side of the world.
The real worry for British farmers is, of course, the lower standard of much imported beef. Australian farmers operate under different standards to British producers – and some of their production methods would be illegal here.
We like to think British beef is second to none. The fear is that the vast Australian cattle lots with less than ideal conditions will result in inferior beef being sold here for British consumers.
Australian cattle are reared using hormones, antibiotics and lengthy transport times without access to water. And even if Australian beef is labelled on supermarket shelves, many consumers will be none the wiser.
Leaving the European Union means the UK government is now free to strike its own trade deals. With that comes the need to acknowledge an uncomfortable truth: British farmers – me included – have long been cushioned from the harsh reality of the ruthless global market.
Many of us have become so accustomed to our annual basic payment that it is hard to see how we will survive without it, let alone compete with cheap food imports that undercut our own beef and lamb.
It is not a subject or a theme that is widely spoken about in public. But Brexit and the removal of the basic payment, which starts to be phased out later this year, puts British farmers and food producers in direct competition with the rest of the world.
But we can’t compete on price – not when we are expected to abide by some of the highest production standards in the world. Those high production standards all add cost and that should be recognised by the government.
Some say the 15-year transition period is generous and gives us time to adapt. But those high production standards will still be there when it is over. And at the same time, our returns and margins are slowly diminishing.
Surging global commodities, the covid pandemic and the threat of all-out war in the Middle East mean it is a wonder that the Australian trade deal ever reached the front pages. The fact that it did shows that people do care what we eat.
If Australian cattle farms are bigger and better than ours – and produce better quality meat then I have no problem with that. But the fact is that we are being expected to compete on a playing field that is far from level. And that is unfair.
Ideally, the quality of our product should shine through. But it is hard to see how when our very own government has chosen Brisbane over Blighty.