The UK government’s free trade agreements (FTAs) with both Australia and New Zealand are now in effect from today (Wednesday, May 31).

The National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) has said that the commencement of the “damaging trade deals” will cause issues for farmers.

NFUS president, Martin Kennedy, described the UK government’s track record on the UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand free trade agreements as “one of failure”.

Kennedy said: “Both of these FTAs were negotiated in 2021 without the interests of primary producers in mind but with politically-driven haste in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU.

“The UK government failed to protect Scottish farming interests, failed to properly engage with stakeholders and failed to provide Parliament with proper scrutiny on such deals once agreed.”

Kennedy also accused the UK government of using agricultural interests and access to the food and drink sector as “cheap bargaining chips” to secure “more lucrative market access for other sectors”.

“There was little or nothing in these damaging trade deals for Scottish food or farming, a fact that former Defra Secretary of State George Eustice recently recognised.

“NFU Scotland has consistently highlighted the clear lack of meaningful safeguards to protect domestic food security, in addition to the cumulative impacts for particular sectors such as beef, lamb and dairy posed by two giants of global agri-food trade,” he added.

Farmer concerns are ‘misplaced’

But the UK government has said that the concerns of farmers and farming organisations about the FTAs are “misplaced for several reasons”.

Market access for Australian producers, it said, will be phased in gradually for “sensitive products” like beef and sheep meat.

The quota system which limits the volume of tariff-free imports of certain products from Australia for up to 10 years also aims to offset negative impacts on UK farmers.

However the President of the National Farmers’ Union, Minette Batters, said UK farmers will suffer as more Australian and New Zealand produce becomes available in the country.

She said it is clear that UK farmers have “very little to gain from these two deals” and that they will inevitably result in a “tougher trading environment” for UK farmers.

The government’s Impact Assessment (IA) shows a negative effect on the UK agriculture, forestry and fishing; and the semi-processed food sector as a result of the deals.