Government must protect UK food standards in Australian trade deal

19 May 2021, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has urged the Government to keep its word on maintaining the UK’s high food standards in any new trade deal with Australia.

There have been a series of media reports suggesting that the UK Government is close to concluding a trade deal with Australia, which would see Australian farmers gain full zero-tariff access to the UK market.

However, with UK farmers bound by high food and environmental standards, there is a real fear that they will be significantly undercut and unable to compete with cheaper produce entering the market from Australia.

In addition to potentially undermining the UK’s farming industry, there are serious concerns that cheaply produced new food imports will put pressure on livestock farmers to intensify their practices in order to compete. This would have a negative impact on animal welfare and environmental standards across the UK.

Previous Secretary of States for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove MP and Theresa Villiers MP, and the current Secretary of State, George Eustice MP, have repeatedly asserted the Government’s firm commitment to maintaining the UK’s high food and environmental standards in any circumstance.

Despite this, key amendments to both the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill, aimed at safeguarding British standards and protecting UK producers, were repeatedly defeated by the Government in Parliament.  

In fact, due to loopholes in the recently-passed Trade Bill it has been reported that the Government will now be able to approve the import of animal and agricultural products of a lower standard than currently permitted in the UK and make sweeping changes to existing food safety regulations without consultation.

Julie Barratt, CIEH President said:

“Despite repeated assurances from a string of Environment Secretaries, the mood music does not look good for UK food standards and animal welfare when it comes to this potential deal with Australia.

Adopting a zero-tariff and zero-quota approach to food imports from Australia risks the UK market being flooded with cheaper produce and undercutting UK farmers, forcing our farmers to adopt lower standards just to be able to compete.

There are also serious questions about how importing cheaper food from the other side of the world impacts on the UK’s food security or sustainability, or how it helps the Government meet its wider environmental pledges or commitment to achieving net-zero.

We are calling on the UK Government to stick to its environmental commitments and to not undermine our high food standards in an attempt to get a trade deal over the line.” 

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