UK strategy to cope with trade deals urgently needed

The PM urgently needs to produce a strategy that will enable British agriculture to cope with the “seismic” changes that will flow from the UK’s new liberalising trade deals, the NFU has warned.

NFU president Minette Batters speaking to Boris Johnson in April © John Cottle/NFU

The union urged that it was now “critical” that the government “showcases its plan to ensure its own domestic farming industry is not damaged by current or future trade deals, to seize the opportunities from our new independent trade policy, and to ensure trade deals the government negotiates do not undermine our country’s own high farming standards and do not reward and incentivise lower standards overseas.

"This should include match-funding for export promotion and market development, and investment in trade diplomacy overseas”.

“Looking at the recently announced UK-Australia deal, the tariff-free access being granted to Australian farmers from the outset is incredibly significant,” explained NFU president Minette Batters.

“We have repeatedly raised our concerns about this level of tariff liberalisation on sensitive sectors, such as beef, lamb and sugar, and the subsequent impact this could have on domestic producers if they are undercut by imports.

“These are enormous volumes and it’s not clear at all that the safeguards that have been announced will have any effect. For example, the fifth year of the tariff safeguard on lamb would only kick in if Australian producers have already shipped over 150% of the UK’s current import requirement. It’s hard to know if it is British lamb producers or the carrying capacity of our docks that are really being safeguarded here.

“As the final details of how the tariff-rate quotas (TRQs) are administered and how the safeguards will operate are negotiated, I expect the government to engage directly with the UK food and farming industry immediately to ensure these aspects of the deal are as effective as possible. In particular, imports of sensitive products like beef, lamb and sugar under TRQs or subject to safeguards must be managed so that distortion of the domestic market is minimised.

“It is imperative the government explains how it will work with farmers in the UK, so they can continue to produce the high-quality food the public wants in the face of huge potential volumes of imports produced in very different systems that the public would not put up with if they were adopted by British farmers.

“We recognise the advantages of striking independent trade deals and being able to sell our fantastic British produce abroad, but this must be accompanied by a strategy that details how we will improve our trade diplomacy, including boots on the ground focusing on agri-food exports alongside measures to improve the productivity and competitiveness of UK farming.”