Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Downing Street on the 15th of June to sign off the elements of a historic UK-Australia Free-Trade Agreement to ‘boost commerce, investment and mobility’ between the two countries. Though welcomed by the Government, the agricultural industry has raised deep concerns and are yet cautious despite unspecific reassurances.
The Australian government says beef and sheep meat tariffs on exports to the UK will be eliminated after 10 years, with dairy tariffs going after 5 years. “You feel very under threat at the moment, particularly with the Australian Free-Trade deal. There’s no restrictions at the moment on anything coming in standards wise at all.” says Matthew Robinson, a farmer from Lincolnshire who is deeply worried about the unfair prospect of having to compete with Australian beef that doesn’t meet the same standards of British beef which is being kept to European levels of quality.
Albert Hubert from Buckinghamshire whose family have been farming for over a hundred years is worried about the ramifications for animal welfare. “They want to sign an agreement with Australia, it needs to be done in such a way that we’re all playing on the same level playing field. Animal welfare is well below ours, and so therefore they can farm cheaper and they can sell cheaper.” says Albert.
Australian farming involves a number of practices which are outlawed in the UK such as keeping hens in battery cages and providing cattle hormones. The RSPCA says the government will be setting back hard fought for welfare standards in the UK and giving Australia zero incentive to improve its own welfare standards.
Deborah Tomlinson from Leicestershire has a family-run dairy farm, though she has recently diversified into a small farm-shop that caters to locals. She stresses that Brexit and the free-trade agreements that have come as a consequence threaten dairy farms. “We’re just going to be something they brush aside. Farming now is not that important or at least that’s how we feel as farmers.” Deborah said.
She also stressed that the lower standards of foods imported from Australia will be most present in the catering industry such as in schools and hospitals. “It’s through the backdoor, these imports that are happening, people won’t know about them because they’ll be hidden in the food chain.”
“British consumers and farmers were promised many times from the Conservative’s own election manifesto or secretaries state such as Michael Gove, Liz Trust, George Eustice, or even more recently the actual prime minister Boris Johnson who gave a cast-iron guarantee that UK food and farming standards would not be undercut in future trade-deals with food that would be illegal to produce here.” said Joe Stanley, another farmer and avid environmentalist from Leicestershire, who suggests most of the current goals of the Conservaitive’s manifesto are unobtainable with the inevitable trade-deal.
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