Critics warn Australia trade deal could be highly 'damaging' for UK farmers

The deal would see tariff-free imports of hormone-treated beef flown from Australia to the UK.

Farming unions and environmentalists have railed against government plans to sign a trade deal with Australia which would pave the way for hormone-treated beef to enter the UK tariff- and quota-free.

Farming unions have said that the proposals would drive UK farmers out of business, while environmental groups have said that allowing hormone-treated beef to be flown into the country would be a violation of commitments made in the Conservatives’ manifesto.

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Scottish politicians have raised particular concerns over the effect the deal could have on the livelihoods of Scottish farmers, with SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford calling on Alister Jack, the secretary of state for Scotland, to fight back or resign over the “damaging” free trade deal.

Critics say the deal could threaten thousands of UK farmers.

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Blackford said Scotland’s farmers and crofters would be disproportionately affected by such a deal, with the country’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors particularly at risk.

In a letter to Mr Jack on Saturday (May 22), Mr Blackford said: “The continued uncertainty surrounding the prospect of your government signing up to a post-Brexit trade deal, which would grant tariff free access to Australian farmers, is a source of deep and growing concern for our own farming and crofting communities.

“This morning’s speculation of a UK Government offer to phase in a zero-tariff, zero quota regime over a number of years could, in effect, place a time limit on the future of farming livelihoods across these islands.”

Environmentalists, meanwhile, have said that allowing hormone-treated beef into the country would lower food standards, as well as racking up unnecessary air miles.

Tanya Steele, the chief executive of WWF, warned the government not to forget its obligations on climate ahead of the Cop26 summit later this year.

“Rushing to align ourselves with the laggards on climate and nature – without guarantees to uphold core standards – invites lower standards of production on to our shelves, and risks exporting our environmental footprint rather than reducing it,” she said.

The government hope to have a deal agreed by the time of the G7 summit being held in Cornwall next month.

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Any deal we sign with Australia will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.

“Typically, any tariff liberalisation is staged over time, with safeguards built in. Australian meat accounts for a very low proportion of total UK imports, and is produced to high standards.