Welsh farmers point to Ireland confusion as they warn minister shouldn’t rush Australian trade deal
Welsh farmers have pointed to the mess created by the Northern Ireland protocol as an example of what happens when the UK Government rushes into a deal without sufficient scrutiny.
The Farmers Union of Wales have called on the Welsh Secretary Simon Hart to put the brakes on any trade deal with Australia which they say would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
Speaking after the meeting with the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP, FUW Carmarthenshire county chairman Philip Jones said that he “made it very clear” that trade deals “need time and thorough scrutiny”.
“Under no circumstances should they be rushed, but that is what is happening here, on top of which the UK Parliament will not be able to scrutinise and have a final say on a deal in the way other democratic nations do,” he told Wales Farmer.
“As it stands we in Wales have no ability under existing legislation to reduce our standards to the extent that they come close to meeting the competitive advantage that Australian imports would enjoy.
“Doing so to any extent like that would equate to a ‘race to the bottom’ that would add to friction for our exports to our main markets in Europe.”
Philip Jones added that the FUW would do all they could to oppose such a trade agreement and ensure that detailed scrutiny takes place.
“The extreme problems we are seeing in Northern Ireland because of the protocol show what happens when politicians do not listen to stark warnings and rush things through in order to meet a self-imposed timetable, but that’s exactly what’s happening with regard to the Australia deal.
“A repeat in terms of a trade deal with Australia would be disastrous because it would be almost impossible to undo unless there is something like a break clause.”
Under the terms of the proposed deal, Australian farmers would be granted zero-tariff and zero-quote access to the UK market.
It is feared that imports of Australian lamb and beef will land hardest in rural areas such as Welsh hill farms, and impact Welsh speaking heartlands.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has previously met with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove to relay his “concerns”.
According to The Times, a tentative agreement has been pencilled in for next week after the G7 summit in Cornwall.
Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, and is expected to stay on for bilateral talks after joining the gathering of western leaders, and both sides hope that an agreement can be announced at that time.
Most elements of the new trade agreement are understood to have been agreed.
But with the last sticking point is the length of any transition period before tariff-free access is granted to Australian farmers.
The UK Government is understood to want a period of ten to 15 years before full tariff-free access is granted, in order to give farmers time to prepare for increased competition.
However, Australia is pushing for a much shorter timeframe, with one source suggesting that it would not settle for longer than 10 years.