Charities have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to rethink the zero-tariff trade deal offered to Australia in a letter to The Times published on Wednesday (26 May) to avoid a lowering of food, animal welfare and environmental standards.
Leading the charge, food and farming charity Sustain argued that this deal will pave the way for the UK government to make similar deals with larger trading nations that would undermine food, animal welfare and environmental standards further. It also points out that Wales and Scotland would be unable to opt out.
Signed by 14 leading charities, the letter highlights the horrifying practice of removing the skin from live sheep, allowed in Australia, and its "overuse" of antibiotics and pesticides, and “poor record” on environmental issues. Signatories include RSPCA; Soil Association; Compassion in World Farming; Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics; Friends of the Earth; the Wildlife Trusts; and Farms not Factories.
The letter argued: “If the UK government gives tariff-free access to low-standard, low-welfare Australian produce then it will pave the way for low-standard deals with bigger trading nations.
“This food could end up in schools, hospitals and care homes. Such a deal would also impose low-standard produce on Scotland and Wales, as the Internal Market Act insists on free trade between the nations.
“The government would be breaking its manifesto commitment to maintain our standards. This deal would undermine our farmers and export the UK’s ecological and carbon footprints as it prepares to host COP26.”
Under the terms, tariffs would be removed from Australian produce after 15 years to give British farmers a chance to acclimatise but it is reported that Australian officials are pushing for them to be dropped earlier.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmer’s Union, has already warned that such a deal would jeopardise British farmers whenever tariffs are dropped.
Tariffs were suggested as a means of protecting UK standards by the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) without imposing outright bans on certain produce. A dual tariff approach was opposed by many groups including CIEH as still watering down standards.
CIEH was also critical of the Australian deal when details were leaked last week, and especially concerned about the impact on food security and sustainability, and environmental commitments such as net-zero. The effects lower food standards could have on the public's health was also raised when the original TAC was formed.
* Today (27 May) the chair of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee (EFRA) Neil Parish, has written to trade secretary Liz Truss, calling for any agreement in principle with Australia to be published as soon as it is signed off - ahead of the full legal text published later in the year. The letter also urged Westminster to clarify details of the new TAC that will be "fundamental to the scrutiny process" of new Free Trade Agreements.