UK farming organisations have responded to the news that the UK-Australia deal has been signed by both governments, and the consensus is that they are not happy.

The UK has signed a free trade agreement with Australia yesterday (December 17), finalising the chapters of the deal which was agreed in principle back in June.

Earlier today, Agriland reported that the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) had called it a “one-sided deal” and that the deal contains “very little to benefit British farmers”.

This sentiment has since been echoed by the union’s counterpart in the north – NFU Scotland.

“The final deal, as we feared after the announcement of the deal in principle, shows a complete dearth of proper consultation with farming and food sector interests across the UK. While we are not against free trade this deal appears to be very one sided, with little to no advantage for Scottish farmers,” said NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy.

The safeguards put in place in the deal, according to NFU Scotland, simply delay the inevitable – “unfettered access for Australian producers to UK markets”.

“This is an issue given the difference in production systems between Australia and the UK. Scottish and British producers operate to a completely different cost structure giving the Australian agricultural sector the comparative advantage of commodity production, to the point that transporting products across the world does not erode the price advantage,” Kennedy said.

The measures put in place to ‘safeguard’ British farmers include: A Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ), lasting up to 10 years; a product-specific safeguard for beef and sheepmeat imports from year 11 to year 15; and a general bilateral safeguard mechanism, which can take the form of an increase in tariffs or a suspension of further tariff liberalisation for up to four years, and can be reapplied more than once on the same product, if necessary.

The TRQs in particular, were met with “disappointment” by the National Sheep Association (NSA).

“NSA is disappointed that this deal has been pushed through and now signed without any resolution on how TRQs could be managed in a way to limit potential damage to the UK’s own domestic trade,” said NSA chief executive Phil Stocker.

NSA warned from day one that the UK sheep sector could end up being the sacrificial lamb for the benefit of other industries in a trade deal with Australia, and indeed New Zealand.

“I’m confident the British sheep industry is in a fit enough state to fight back when we have to, despite our standards being ratcheted higher and higher (many of which carry costs). And fight we will do, in order to maintain domestic support for our high quality products and to access other global markets,” Stocker concluded.

The deal is yet to be approved by Parliament (UK and Australian) after which, businesses will be able to trade under the agreed terms.