Australia is one of the UK’s closest allies of course. We share a head of state, the same language and very much the same values. Our people also enjoy deep and historic links of kinship and friendship, arguably unlike any other two nations.
As we all know, a trade deal with Australia is an enormous opportunity for the UK. We are Australia’s second largest trading partner outside the Asia-Pacific and trade between our two countries was worth £18.8 billion in 2019.
I very much understand your concerns about any impact of a trade deal which may have possible effects on food standards. But I can assure you that our food standards will never be lowered in pursuit of a trade deal and our farmers will not be undercut by this deal. Our world-leading animal welfare standards will be upheld throughout our trade negotiations and – despite the hype around this - the Trade and Agriculture Commission is there to provide entirely independent scrutiny of animal welfare in all trade deals.
Last month I spoke in a debate in Parliament about the importance of British meat and dairy products and highlighted the concerns of many farmers that I have spoken with over recent months. Do feel free to read my speech here:
Analysis suggests that UK exports to Australia could increase by up to £900 million if a trade deal is agreed. A deal would remove tariffs on all UK exports to Australia (never possible under the EU blanket deal) and create new provisions on digital, mobility, services, investment and procurement, bringing huge new business opportunities for the whole country.
And Parliament will scrutinise any deal in the usual way, so I and other colleagues will of course not support a deal that would, in any way, undermine the UK’s high standards.
Global demand for meat is increasing rapidly. Meat consumption is projected to rise by 75 per cent by 2050 and free trade agreements create huge new export opportunities for British farmers. And demand is growing quickly in the Asia-Pacific region. The deal with Australia is also a gateway to joining CPTPP (The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) – a group of high-standards Pacific nations.
Maintaining high food standards is a clear red line in the UK’s trade negotiations. Australia has one of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, not dissimilar to our own, and scoring five out of five by the World Organisation of Animal Health (OIE). The practices of castration of chickens and production of foie gras, for example, are banned in Australia on welfare grounds but continue to be permitted in the EU.
A number of farmers have raised concerns with me about hormone-fed beef. This is banned in the UK and will not be allowed to enter the UK market – this will not change under any FTA. As I say, any compromising on our high food standards is a red line in our trade negotiations, so the UK will never allow its importation.
Australian export opportunities to the UK are likely to continue to be limited. We are more likely to see prime steak for restaurants, rather than cheap imports flooding supermarket shelves. If anything (though it is doubtful given the journey times, logistics and the Australian focus on their nearby rapidly growing Asian market) Australian imports of beef would likely displace current imports from the EU, not British produce.
The EU currently accounts for most beef imports into the UK, with 237,928 tonnes imported last year. This is roughly 98 per cent of total beef imports into the UK in 2020.
Additionally, as I say, Australian beef and lamb is already committed to the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific markets. Around 75 per cent of Australian beef exports, and 70 per cent sheep meat are imported to Asia-Pacific markets, where the costs of beef production can be twice as high than the UK in some markets. The prospect of substantive Australian imports of beef and sheep meat is very low.
I do apologise for the length of this response, but I want to offer you as much reassurance as possible. There is an abundance of inaccurate information circulating online and throughout the media about the potential FTA with Australia and this has caused much unnecessary distress to farmers throughout the country.