Welsh farming union fears long-term impact of Australia trade deal
The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) is worried about the long-term impact of the UK’s trade deal with Australia.
It has responded to a report by the Welsh Affairs Committee on the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which granted Australian farmers zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the UK market.
According to the committee, long-term risks of the deal are “unknown”, but it said in the short-term it is unlikely to result in a competitive disadvantage for Wales in the short-term, because Australia has more profitable markets “closer to home”.
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, and FUW Head of Policy Dr Nick Fenwick told the committee hearing that under certain future trading conditions the trade deal as currently drafted could have severe impacts for Welsh farmers.
Australian trade negotiator Professor Dmitry Grozoubinski has said “Welsh farmers are right to be concerned in the long-term”.
Speaking after the report’s publication, Dr Nick Fenwick said: “The committee is right to say that there is unlikely to be any impact for farmers in the short term, but the question is ‘what will the situation be in ten or fifteen years?’
“Clearly there’s nothing to worry about if nothing ‘goes wrong’, but global trade patterns and prices can change dramatically over a ten year period, and if there are no safeguards in place the damage to our farming industry of this and other similar trade deals would be immense and unstoppable.
During the evidence hearings, former Australian trade negotiator Professor Dmitry Grozoubinski told the hearing that “Welsh farmers are right to be concerned in the long term… when you eliminate tariffs or you raise quotas to hundreds of thousands of pounds, then, if that quota were to be filled or if there were a 10,000% increase in Australian lamb to the UK, I think that would be devastating for Welsh farming.
“This deal means that that is now a theoretical possibility in the sense that the UK Government can no longer use tariffs to prevent it,” added Dr Fenwick.
Dr Fenwick said that in its current form the trade deal would allow the amount of Australian beef and lamb imported to the UK to increase by hundreds of thousands of tonnes, and there appeared to be no safeguards to prevent the import of food produced to standards that fall short of what is required in the UK.
This position that appeared to be supported by Professor Grozoubinski, who told the committee that “Australia will not be obligated to treat an animal in any way differently because of this deal than they were a week before it was signed”.
Dr Fenwick said that In light of such concerns, Members of Parliament needed to act to ensure the UK’s long term interests are served and that Welsh and UK farmers and food can be protected in the long-term in a range of scenarios.
“As it currently stands, the deal would open the door to the possibility of severe impacts in ten or fifteen years, and make that door almost impossible to close for a future government. It’s almost universally accepted that the deal would also set precedents for trade deals with other countries which would add to pressures for Welsh farmers,” he added.
The Committee has also called for the UK and Welsh governments to work with the agri-food sector to ensure that UK producers have the skills and support needed to compete a new global trading environment. This would include a significant increase in the number of Agriculture and Food counsellors based overseas.
The report recommends that the draft treaty text is shared with the Welsh Government.
It says this is to enable the Welsh Government to feedback the local and regional impacts, and to develop its own impact assessment covering the short-term impacts and impacts by sector.
The FUW has welcomed a number of the recommendations by the Welsh Affairs Committee.
Dr Fenwick said: “We wrote to the committee in June suggesting that such an inquiry takes place, and welcome the recommendations which, if accepted by the UK Government, would mark a small step towards achieving transparency and a sensible position on the UK-Australia trade deal.”
Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on agriculture in Westminster and member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Ben Lake MP said: “Welsh farmers are rightly concerned that an influx of cheaper beef and lamb from Australia will undercut their produce over the next 15 years. The UK Government could allay their fears by setting out an impact assessment on the long-term impacts – but refuse to do so.
“Plaid Cymru has serious concerns that the agreement fails to protect the interests of Welsh farming, which sends a worrying signal to other large farming nations hoping to strike trade deals with the UK, adding further pressures on Welsh lamb and beef farmers.”