British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced their post-Brexit trade agreement only last week but it seems opposition to the pact is anything but dead.
Rural affairs ministers from Scotland and Northern Ireland are warning the UK’s trade deal with Australia risks “very significant negative impact” on local farmers and producers who fear they could be undercut by meat from Australia.
In a joint letter to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon and her Northern Ireland Executive counterpart, Edwin Poots, are seeking further clarity on the deal.
They say the deal will lead to “a sustained increase in imports of Australian agri-food and produced to lesser standards in relation to animal welfare and future environmental commitments”.
The ministers also say that where there is an increase Australian agri-food imports, “this must be managed by tariff rate quotas that are not eroded over time”.
“We are also concerned by the size of the quotas, which after 15 years equate to 16 per cent of UK beef consumption and 49 per cent of UK sheepmeat consumption,” the letter says.
“Clearly, if Australian exports reach anything close to these levels, we can expect a very significant negative impact on our agri-food sector.”
The ministers say they are not reassured by claims that Australia will not export a lot of beef to the UK.
“Australia is a very significant beef exporter and has the potential to increase exports further with a view to targeting the UK market.”
They say domestic producers will still be at a disadvantage despite a non-regression clause on animal welfare standards.
A spokeswoman said the UK government had always been clear any deal would include protections for agriculture.
Trade agreements such as the in-principle deal with Australia would pave the wave to access regional trading blocs such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, she said.
“UK farmers have a strong reputation for their high-quality, high-welfare produce. We put British farming at the heart of our trade policy and we have some of the most robust and transparent scrutiny arrangements in the world,” the spokeswoman said.