Australia trade deal could ‘impact’ Welsh speaking heartlands, warns Drakeford
A trade deal with Australia could “impact” Welsh speaking heartlands, Mark Drakeford has warned.
The First Minister was responding to reports that Australian farmers could be granted tariff-free access to the UK market.
It is feared that the likely impact of zero-tariff imports of Australian lamb and beef will land hardest in rural areas such as Welsh hill farms.
There have been reports of internal battle in Whitehall between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of International trade over the terms of the post-Brexit agreement.
The British cabinet is meeting to discuss the issue today, and the UK Government is hoping to sign the deal in the next couple of weeks.
Drakeford revealed he met with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove yesterday to relay his “concerns”.
It is understood that Gove is against granting zero-tariff access to Australian farmers.
The First Minister told Nick Robinson on Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well, it wasn’t a meeting in which Mr Gove was setting out his own views. He had very strongly from myself, from ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, both on the economic impact of this potential deal, but also its impact on the future of our communities, those Welsh speaking heartlands.
“You talked a lot on your programme recently Nick about the importance of identity in politics.
“We’re talking here about things that make Wales, Wales. That’s what’s at stake here, and Mr Gove did undertake faithfully to relay the strong concerns that were put to him about our communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
He added: “Well he [Michael Gove] certainly agreed to relay our concerns to the UK Government and ministers who will be meeting to discuss this issue.
“I was listening to the contributor from Australia. You see a small amount in their minds is a very big impact here in Wales on our farming community, and we have very real concerns about what a quote free, tariff free deal would mean for our sheep and our dairy industry.
“We want a level playing field. That’s what we want. How can our hill farmers compete with Australian climate?
“How can our farmers compete with the space that is available for the huge farms they have in Australia? How can we compete when our standards of animal welfare and environmental standards are different and higher than they are in Australia?
“If we’re to have a level playing field you have to take all those things into account and then you set your tariffs and your quotas to reflect those intrinsic and inherent difference.
“Europe is our primary market. 30% of Welsh lamb goes to the European Union, 90% of Welsh beef. That is our closest and most important market.
“Another anxiety we have of course if that if you allow products into the United Kingdom from places over the world that have lowers standards then that will impact your ability to trade into those much more important markets.
“No problem with trade deals elsewhere in the world, provided they are affair trade deals, and that’s what’s at the heart of our anxiety here in Wales.”