Boris Johnson ‘refuses’ to rule out Australia trade deal that would ‘sacrifice’ Welsh farmers
Boris Johnson has been accused of “refusing” to rule out a trade deal with Australia that would “devastate” Welsh farming.
Plaid’s International Trade spokesperson, Hywel Williams made the comments after a session of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.
He asked Johnson to “permanently” rule out granting tariff free access to the UK market to Australian lamb and beef, which is feared would hammer Welsh agriculture.
According to the Plaid MP, the UK Prime Minister is “showing his willingness to sacrifice Welsh agriculture for cheap political gain
Speaking in the House of Commons chamber, Hywel Williams said: “In 2019, before visiting Wales, the Prime Minister said, ‘I will always back Britain’s great farmers’.
“Now, it seems he is backing Australia’s farmers instead. Will he keep to his word and really back Welsh farmers today by permanently ruling out tariff free access for Australian lamb and beef imports?”
Boris Johnson replied that he “backed” Welsh farmers in exporting lamb around the world, but did not address the matter of the proposed trade deal with Australia.
Speaking after the session, Williams said: “Granting open access to cheap Australian lamb and beef would present a historic existential threat for Welsh farmers and the communities they support. The Prime Minister has broken his promise to our farmers.
“A free trade deal with Australia could only add a mere 0.01% to GDP over 15 years but could devastate the Welsh farming industry for generations. No government that claims to act in the interests of Welsh farmers could ever sign such a deal.
“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.”
According to the Financial Times “ferocious” internal battle is going on in Whitehall between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of International trade over the terms of the post-Brexit agreement.
People with knowledge of internal discussions says UK ministers are divided over whether to grant tariff-free access to Australian farmers, amid fears it could boost Welsh and Scottish independence, as well as spark a fierce backlash from the UK farming industry.
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 and Scottish hill farms.
Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, is reportedly facing stiff opposition from George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, and Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, who have warned of the political fallout from a zero-tariff deal.
One person with knowledge of the internal discussions within the UK Government told the FT: “There is an absolutely ferocious row going on in Whitehall over the Australia deal with real pressure to get it resolved by the end of this week. Gove and Eustice are on one side, Truss and [Lord David] Frost on the other.”
The UK Government estimates that a free trade agreement with Australia would be worth an additional 0.01-0.02 per cent of GDP over 15 years — or £200m-£500m more than 2018 levels.
One insider opposed to the deal said: “Basically we’re talking about signing off the slow death of British farming so Liz Truss can score a quick political point.”
The Welsh Government has warned that a trade deal with Australia “must not disadvantage” Wales’ farmers.
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething: “Farmers and food producers play a crucial role in our society, economy and environment.
“We have been very clear with the UK Government that any new trade deals must not cause an un-level playing field, by giving food importers with lower standards an economic advantage in our market compared to our own producers.”
Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths said: “We are extremely proud of the high food safety standards we have here in Wales, including standards around animal health and welfare, traceability, environment and food safety.
“No trade agreement should ever undermine that or our domestic legislation and the Welsh Government has consistently made this point to the UK Government.”