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Australia trade deal would be a historic betrayal of British farming and set a dangerous precedent for future trade deals

Australia trade deal would be a historic betrayal of British farming and set a dangerous precedent for future trade deals
3 min read

It's not too late for the government to grow a backbone and stand up for British farmers and Britain's world-leading animal welfare and environmental standards.

So often we see Conservative MPs and ministers take to social media to tell us how much they love British farming and how they think it’s the best in the world.

But their plans for a free trade deal with Australia show that when push comes to shove they seem to have no problem whatsoever with throwing British farmers under a bus.

As a liberal I am firm believer in free trade – but only as long as it’s fair trade.

Australian animal welfare standards are lower than the UK's which makes for lower production costs and cheaper produce. Therefore, the only way that small British family farms could compete would be to lower their own standards - which nobody except the government wants them to do.

The problem with this approach is that the countries you are negotiating with can smell your desperation a mile off

A trade deal on these terms would be a historic betrayal of British farming and will set a dangerous precedent. If Australian farmers are given the green light to undercut British farmers then surely it’s inevitable that the government will allow Canadian, New Zealand and American farmers to do the same.

That’s why the NFU have been unequivocal in coming out and saying that letting Australian farmers sell their produce tariff-free into the UK would spell a disaster for small British family farms.

The RSPCA have also warned that this deal could set back animal welfare by decades if it allows the import of cruelly produced goods.

But the government haven’t just picked a fight with farmers and animal rights campaigners – they’re completely on the wrong side of public opinion too.

A survey from the consumer watchdog Which? found that 94% of people think it’s important to maintain existing food standards, while 81% were uncomfortable eating beef reared using growth hormones – a practice which is widespread in Australian farming.

Meanwhile over a million people signed a recent NFU petition which called on the government to put into law rules that prevent food being imported to the UK which is produced in ways that would be illegal here.

Selling out British farmers and Britain’s high animal welfare standards seems an even more unbelievable decision when you see that the Department for International Trade estimates that this massively controversial deal will see UK GDP grow by just 0.025% over the next 15 years.

Which begs the simple question, why are the government are doing this?

The answer appears to be desperation. The government’s mantra is “getting things done” and so they need to be seen to be securing trade deals quickly – especially as it was sold as one of the big benefits of leaving the EU.

But the problem with this approach is that the countries you are negotiating with can smell your desperation a mile off, which means that they know that they can get away with giving us a really bad deal.  That’s exactly what is happening here.

This is a lesson that we’ve all sadly had to learn the hard way with the government’s botched deal with the EU leading to trade with our biggest partner dropping by nearly a quarter.

The government know that this will be a bad deal – that’s why they’ve made the utterly cowardly decision to not allow MPs to scrutinise it until after the deal is signed.

It's not too late for the government to grow a backbone and stand up for British farmers and Britain's world-leading animal welfare and environmental standards.

 

Tim Farron is the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

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