McAleer ‘seriously concerned’ at UK-Australia trade deal

Sinn Féin MLA Declan McAleer has expressed serious concern at the potential implications for local producers of the UK-Australia trade.

The UK government claimed British farmers would be protected by a 15-year cap on tariff-free imports, “using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards”.

However, industry bodies have said it’s not clear whether safeguards go far enough to protect local farming from lower-cost imported produce.

‘Sacrificial lambs’ in the UK-Australia deal

McAleer, who also chairs the Stormont Agriculture Committee, said the deal raised environmental concerns and also risked coming into competition with NI produce in Britain.

“The trade deal between Britain and Australia poses a serious threat to our local farmers and agri-food businesses. 50% of all food produced in the North is exported to the British market in an industry which is worth over £3 billion every year, underpinning 100,000 jobs,” he said.

“While the EU protocol will prevent Australian beef and sheepmeat from entering our local market, the introduction of tariff-free trade with Australia over the next 15 years will displace our share of the British market.

“Our farmers will not be able to compete with such a huge food-producing continent.

“The difference in scale is seismic. For example, the largest beef farm in Australia is 5.8 million acres, which is 50% larger than the entire landmass of the North, which is 3.4 million acres.

“This difference is also reflected in prices. Figures highlighted by the National Sheep Association for June show that the price per kg for sheep meat is €2.36 less for Australian produce than local prices. They believe that the sheep sector are ‘sacrificial lambs’ in this trade deal.

“In addition to the differences in scale and prices, under Australian rules the use of hormones is permitted to promote growth, cattle can be transported for up to 48 hours and the RSPA has highlighted welfare concerns whereby cattle can be raised in enormous, bare feed-lots, fed grain and never see a blade of grass in their lives.”

‘The antithesis of climate change commitments’

McAleer also raised concerns about the environmental impact of the deal.

“From a climate perspective, while most countries are moving towards net-zero and taking steps to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, the prospect of importing agri-food 10,000 miles while undermining local, sustainable producers is the complete antithesis of climate change commitments,” he said.

“Throughout this process the British government, in their pursuit of a trade deal have ignored the voices of industry stakeholders.

“They have also effectively sidelined the Trade and Agriculture Commission which was set up as the voice of the agrifood sector to advise the British government on the potential impact of future trade deals.

“The Australian deal also highlights the real reason why the British government refused to legislate for minimum food standards in their Agriculture Bill and are still refusing to enter into a veterinary agreement with the EU.

“Worryingly, the Australian trade deal will likely be the starting point for other major food-producing nations such as the USA and the Mercosur countries in their negotiations with the UK.

“Unfortunately, this is the outworking of a Brexit decision which was rejected by the majority of people here, but supported by the DUP and fellow Brexiteers.

“The British government decision to pursue a trade deal at any cost will have serious consequences for the local agri-food industry.”