Australian Agriculture Minister flies to London as Lords debate the Australia – UK FTA

January 17, 2023: Australian Agriculture Minister Senator Murray Watt flew to London this week to shore up support for the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, which is being debated in the UK parliament and is still to be ratified by the Sunak Conservative Government.

Minister Watts tweeted: “I’m in London & Berlin to advocate for Aus ag. With National Farmers President Fiona Simson in a joint Govt-industry push for: ratification of the Aus-UK FTA; a good deal in the Aus-EU FTA & promotion of Australia’s sustainable ag credentials.”

In the House of Lords second reading of the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill on January 9, 2023, a series of concerns were raised about the FTA. These included claims about Australia’s lower standard agricultural pesticide and animal welfare, the rate of deforestation and land clearing in some regions of Australia and  the impact of the deal on Australian beef and lamb imports on hill farmers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Conservative Lord Frost felt the FTA did not liberalise enough, saying, “First, the aspect of the trade agreements that has been most debated is of course the liberalisation of agriculture, particularly of beef and lamb. As others have felt free to comment on that, again, I want to put on record my view that, in the end, the provisions were not ambitious enough. The very long transitional period of 15 years delays unnecessarily the benefits to our economy of cheaper and high-quality beef and lamb in our market. I have full confidence in the ability of our farming sector to adjust to competition, and we should have pushed for a slightly shorter period in the interests of the UK consumer.” 

Labour Baroness Young of Old Scone, was more critical, saying, “How far can Australia’s less stringent regulation of pesticides interplay with and give an unfair competitive advantage to them over UK producers?

“The flaw in these agreements is that they offer us very small markets which already have only low-tariff barriers, so there is not a huge benefit in the agricultural sphere to this country. On the downside, both of the countries with which we are making free trade agreements are big exporters, which could swamp our smaller-scale UK markets. … Can the Minister tell us how swamping UK markets can be prevented in future negotiations with even bigger producing and exporting nations? Or does he really want us to be a niche agricultural product nation?” she said.

Lord Liddle, Labour, said, “I come from Cumberland and I know that its hill farmers earn very little: £10,000 to £15,000 per year. They are among the most hard-working, low-paid workers in the country. The noble Lord, Lord Frost … talked of how they would have to adjust. In what ways would they have to adjust and what would be the social and environmental costs, as well as the costs to the traditions that they have pursued for generations? We would like to hear answers from the Government on that question.”