NI and Scottish Ministers write to Westminster over Free Trade concerns

Scotland and Northern Ireland’s Rural Affairs Ministers have written to Westminster reiterating “significant concerns” over the UK’s approach to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations.

The Welsh Government is understood to have also written to the UK Minister of State for Trade Policy, Greg Hands, regarding its concerns.

Free Trade concerns

Northern Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Edwin Poots and Scotland’s Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said they had “little faith” concerns over the deal’s potential implications for farmers, animal welfare, and climate change were being taken seriously.

The letter revealed that, after 15 years, the quotas equate to 16% of UK beef and 49% of UK sheepmeat consumption.

Writing to Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade, the ministers called for impact risk assessments to be shared with the UK’s devolved administrations.

They questioned how the deal is consistent with wider ambitions to tackle climate change and stated that a 15-year cap on imports is “unlikely to provide comfort” for farming communities and would “set a very damaging precedent” for future FTAs yet to be agreed.

We have previously stressed to you, and remain extremely concerned following the recent announcement, that the UK Government is signing up to a deal that would lead to a sustained increase in imports of Australian agri-food and produced to lesser standards in relation to animal welfare and future environmental commitments,” the letter read.

“As you know, agriculture and food standards are devolved responsibilities. We have been clear that where there is an increase in imports of Australian agri-food, this must be managed by tariff-rate quotas that are not eroded over time. This is to ensure that domestic producers are protected and not disproportionally impacted.”

A significant beef exporter

The pair also called on the UK Government to provide further detail on what has been agreed and ask that the devolved administrations are consulted around remaining issues that have not been agreed yet.

Referring to the post-15-year quotas, the two ministers said: “Clearly, if Australian exports reach anything close to these levels, we can expect a very significant negative impact on our agri-food sector.”

They added that they were “not reassured” by claims that Australia will not be exporting significant amounts of beef to the UK or is seeking to replace imports from other countries.

Australia is a very significant beef exporter and has the potential to increase exports further with a view to targeting the UK market.

“It would be very surprising that Australia would have been so insistent on achieving a rapid and very sizeable increase in market access with the intention of making little use of it,” the ministers wrote.

Animal welfare

Concerns were also raised over animal welfare implications.

“The UK Government has indicated that the deal includes a non-regression clause on animal welfare standards, albeit Australian standards are already different and so from a standing start, domestic producers would likely still be at a disadvantage.

“We will be looking at this clause very closely while also considering the detail of any other safeguards,” the letter stated.

An Inter-Ministerial Group meeting between Defra and the devolved administrations is set to take place on June 28.