Former Aussie PM brands opposition to zero-tariff trade deal ‘petty provincialism’
A former Prime Minister of Australia has branded opposition to a zero-tariff and zero-quota trade deal with his country as “petty provincialism”.
Tony Abbott defended the proposed post-Brexit agreement between the UK and Australia, amid fears that allowing tariff-free access to Australian lamb and beef will hammer farmers in Wales and threaten Welsh-speaking communities.
Abbott, who led a right-wing Liberal Party government in Australia, and is now an adviser to the UK Government’s Board of Trade, claimed “there should be no easier deal”
But he added that he understood the “anxiety of small British farmers about competition”.
Boris Johnson has reportedly given his blessing to Trade Secretary Liz Truss to propose a 15 year transition for the deal, with ministerial sources confident an agreement is now in sight.
Australia and the UK could sign the new agreement when their Prime Minister Scott Morrison jets to Cornwall next month for the G7 summit.
There have been reports of a “fierce” 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, amid fears it would spark a backlash from farmers.
In The Times, Abbott wrote: “With so much shared history, comparable living standards and almost identical ways of thinking, there should be no easier deal than one between Britain and Australia.
“Any failure to conclude a swift and comprehensive agreement would be a triumph of petty provincialism; a lamentable departure from the can-do optimism that has always characterised our two countries.
“I can understand the anxiety of small British farmers about competition from agri-businesses abroad but have no doubt that the British product will continue to dominate high-end markets.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford has warned that a switch to zero-tariffs and zero-quotas would “impact” Welsh speaking heartlands.
The Welsh Government has said that the post-Brexit agreement must not lower food standards and put the Welsh agriculture sector at a disadvantage, and that it should not “undermine” or domestic legislation.
Plaid Cymru MP Hywel 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.”