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US Farmers Are Keeping A "Very Close Eye On How Far The UK Is Willing To Go" With Australia Trade Deal

4 min read

Farmers in the United States are watching the UK government's advanced trade negotiations with Australia very closely, a major agricultural group in the US has told PoliticsHome.

Liz Truss' Department for International Trade (DIT) is close to finalising a deal with counterparts in Canberra, which is expected to eliminate tariffs on Australian beef, lamb and other food products over 10-15 years.

Truss and like-minded colleagues argue this will lead to cheaper food and greater choice for British consumers and are pushing for the deal to be done by next month's G7 summit.

However, UK farmers, who have the sympathy of Environment Secretary George Eustice, have warned that removing tariffs on Australian imports will undercut British farmers and threaten to put them out of business.

The National Farmers Union and other groups have also expressed concern that the deal will lead to meat produced to lower animal welfare standards being allowed into UK markets.

While trade experts expect the impact of a UK-Australia trade deal to be pretty neglible, they say it could be a template for future trade deals the government strikes with bigger economies that will also want improved access to UK markets for their farmers, like the US and Brazil.

Neil Shand, chief executive of the National Beef Association, has said there is deep concern in the British industry that the government's deal with Australia would be the blueprint for agreements with other countries, particularly the US. 

Dave Salmonsen, the American Farm Bureau Federation's senior director of congressional relations, confirmed that the US industry was paying close attention to UK-Australia talks as they approach their conclusion.

"Every trade agreement is a template or influences the next one, so we will be looking closely to see what comes out of this," he told PoliticsHome.

He said the organisation, which represents 5.8 million farmers across the US, was "looking forward to seeing" the finished deal and described the reported details of the agreement for agriculture as "an interesting first start" for post-Brexit Britain. 

Salmonsen repeated previous US industry warnings that a trade agreement with the UK would hinge on the contentious issue of food standards, which are drastically different in the US and Australia to in Europe. 

"Everybody will be looking very closely at how the standards are treated in the UK's agreement with Australia," he said.

Speaking about a potential US-UK deal, he said: "Whether it's beef, poultry or pork, they are going to have to find a way to grapple these issues and get past them for negotiations to move forward. Hopefully standards can be harmonised or treated as equivalent — there are different approaches you can use".

He continued: "Removing tariffs is important if you want to open up trade but there is also the issue of standards, which is a continuing issue between the US and the UK — especially on meat products.

"What we are looking for is to see how far the UK is willing to go.

"The 47 years the UK was in the EU and followed the EU's restrictive standards for meat imports — how much of those are going to continued by the UK government?"Talks between the UK and the US over a post-Brexit trade deal have stalled since President Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump but the government sees it as a major prize of leaving the European Union.

This has led to accusations that ministers are preparing to accept US food produced to lower animal welfare standards resulting in chicken washed in chlorine and hormone-injected beef.

The government has repeatedly insisted the UK will not lower its standards in the pursuit of trade agreements with other countries but last week the prime minister's spokesperson failed to explicitly rule out accepting hormone-injected beef as part of the proposed deal with Australia.

DIT later tweeted: "Hormone beef is banned in the UK. We won’t be accepting it in the Australia trade deal or any other".

A DIT spokesperson today told PoliticsHome: “No deal sets a blueprint for future deals, all trade deals are different and are tailored to the relationships and markets of the countries involved — there is no one size fits all.

"Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.

"A deal with Australia will also boost the UK’s bid to join CPTPP, providing a gateway into the fast-growing Indo-Pacific region, where there is growing demand for our products".

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