(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, if she will make a statement on the United Kingdom’s proposed tariff offer to the Australian Government on their agricultural exports.
Our trade agreement with Australia is very likely to be the first from-scratch deal that we have struck outside the European Union. It is a major milestone for global Britain and a major prize secured for our newly independent trade policy. It is on course to slash tariffs on iconic UK exports, saving business potentially about £115 million a year.
The deal will be the most advanced that Australia has struck with any nation bar New Zealand, and will, we expect, be particularly forward-leaning in areas such as services, procurement and digital trade. It will be a great deal for the UK, and our farmers will continue to thrive. The agreement is a gateway into the massive CPTPP—comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—free trade area in the Asia-Pacific, and opens doors for our farmers into some of the biggest economies of now and the future.
Our food is among the best in the world and incredibly competitive. We should be positive, not fearful, of the opportunities that exist for our agriculture and our farmers. We give the EU preferential trading terms, which I do not recall those on the Opposition Benches objecting to. We should be unafraid of giving our Australian cousins something similar, taking the chance to deepen trading ties with one of our closest friends and allies.
Australian meat is high quality and produced to high standards, and it arrives here in low volume. Meanwhile, Australia has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. The UK accounts for just 0.15% of Australian beef exports, and our analysis suggests that any increase in imports is more likely to displace food arriving from the EU. Any deal we strike will contain protections for our farmers, any liberalisation will be staged over time, and any agreement is likely to include safeguards to defend against import surges. Negotiators are now working to agree the outstanding elements with the aim of reaching agreement in principle in June.
This is not the end of the process. Later this year, Parliament will be given ample opportunity to scrutinise the agreement—we welcome scrutiny of the agreement—as well as any legislative changes that may be required before the agreement enters into force. Parliamentarians will also receive an independently scrutinised impact assessment. Mr Speaker, you will know that our scrutiny arrangements are among the most robust, and in line with other parliamentary democracies. Indeed, in some areas we go further still.
This will be a great deal for our United Kingdom. It will deliver big benefits for both countries and will help us build back better from the covid pandemic. I commend it to the House.
Let me make it clear at the outset that we support a trade deal with Australia that is designed in British interests and will create jobs in our economy and increase our exports and growth. What we cannot support is a deal being rushed through in time for the G7 summit without proper debate or consultation, let alone the advance scrutiny that the Government promised by the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We cannot support a deal on agricultural tariffs that will cost jobs in our farming communities, undercut our food standards, increase our carbon offshoring and open the door to the destruction of our farming industry through further lopsided trade deals.
As an exercise in intellectual honesty, I would just ask all those on the Conservative Benches, in the right-wing think-tanks and on the newspaper comment pages to consider for one second how they would have reacted if it was Brussels that had negotiated this trade deal and sold out Britain’s farmers. They would have been rightly furious, and they should not be any less so when it is their own Government who are doing the selling out. However, what matters now is to try to improve the deal on the table before it is signed in Cornwall.
Assuming that it is now too late to remove the offer of zero tariffs, can I ask the Minister of State to pursue three other changes? First, will he put in place a safeguard trigger—which, as I am sure he knows, Australia was willing to accept in its deals with Japan, China and the United States—to protect British farmers against surges in cheap imports? Secondly, will he make it clear that zero tariffs will apply only to Australian products that meet the same standards that British farmers are required to meet on food safety, animal welfare and environmental protections? Thirdly, will he insert a review clause into the deal so that, if its impact is even more negative than was forecast by the Government last year, there is scope both to amend the deal and to learn from it in future trade deals? Those are the bare minimum changes that we need to mitigate the damage that this rushed and botched negotiation is inevitably going to do, so I hope that the Minister of State will agree to pursue all three of those priorities today.
I thank the right hon. Lady again for tabling this question. Let me answer each and every one of her questions. First, she said that this had been rushed through. I was at the Department at its inception in the summer of 2016, and one of the very first things that was announced in 2017 was our target for our initial batch of free trade agreements, which included Australia. That was back in 2017 and repeated by the current Secretary of State in 2019. She talked about the Trade and Agriculture Commission. This will be up and running soon—[Interruption.] If she is that keen to see it up and running soon, she might have supported the passage of the Trade Bill, which became the Trade Act 2021 just before Easter; instead, we saw her repeated manoeuvres to delay and undercut the Bill at the time.
The right hon. Lady talked about any deal potentially undercutting our food standards. I was absolutely clear in the statement that there will be no compromise on our standards of animal welfare, food safety and the environment. That is our manifesto commitment, and it has often been repeated. She made a point about emissions and food miles. There is controversy in relation to meat production emissions, but no more than 5% of emissions are reckoned to come from the transportation across oceans of that product.
Let us look at Australia’s current trade patterns. Only 0.15% of Australian exports come to the UK. Australia sells 75% of its beef and 70% of its lamb into Asia at the moment. That is where the fast-growing markets are, and that is something that we in the UK are seeking to get access to ourselves through agreements such as the CPTPP and other trade agreements. There is a big opportunity here for UK agriculture.
The right hon. Lady asked about a safeguard trigger. As I said in my opening statement, safeguard triggers are typical of free trade agreements. This is still a free trade agreement that is subject to a live negotiation, but I would say that these things are typical of free trade agreements. She asked if we would have zero tariffs if the Australian produce met our standards. The Australian lamb and beef coming into the market today meets our standards. There will be no change as a result of the free trade agreement to our standards. Australian beef and lamb will continue to have to meet our import standards. If that is the only objection to zero tariffs, I take it that she would welcome such a situation if there were zero tariffs in the deal. She also asked about a review clause. Again, that is a typical feature of free trade agreements.
The right hon. Lady has to explain why she is seemingly so opposed to such a trade deal with Australia, a key Commonwealth, Five Eyes and like-minded trade ally of the United Kingdom. She did not complain about the zero-tariff, zero-quota access for EU beef and lamb, which had no staging on it at all. Why does she do so for Australia? I believe her real problem is that she still wants to remain in or rejoin the EU, like her neighbour the Leader of the Opposition, and cannot see the benefits of doing any trade deal with Australia. I commend the prospective deal to the House and invite more progressive voices on the Opposition Benches to join us in backing an FTA with our close friends and allies.
We have all heard much in recent days about the threat posed by large-scale, low-cost Australian meat production, but we all know that consumers care about quality. What opportunities does the Minister see in a free trade agreement with Australia for the hill farmers of Aberconwy, whose grass- fed stock can run freely across the rain-soaked hills of north Wales, breathing in the clean mountain air?
My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents in general and his farmers in particular. There are great opportunities worldwide for the Welsh lamb sector. For example, British lamb is currently not allowed at all in America. We are looking at fast-growing Asian markets, and I refer back to the importance of the Australia deal as a springboard to CPTPP. Half of today’s global middle class is in Asia, and almost 90% of the next billion middle-class people in this world will be in Asia. That is where the growing demand for high-quality meat, such as the Welsh lamb produced by my hon. Friend’s constituents, can be found, and that is where I see great prospects and great opportunities for his constituents, his farmers and farmers across the United Kingdom.
Everybody wants more trade deals to be done, but the Minister simply is not listening to those at the sharp end. Martin Kennedy, president of the National Farmers Union Scotland, said:
“Our seafood industry has already been hit hard by Brexit and now Scottish farming is next to be sacrificed—and once again it’s Scotland’s key industries which will bear the brunt of a Tory Brexit people here did not vote for”.
NFU England has warned Ministers that farmers will struggle to compete if zero-tariff trade on lamb or beef went ahead. The RSPCA has warned that tariff-free access for Australia would betray the public, farmers and animals. Those are just some of the warnings to Government from those affected, not from politicians. Will the Minister rule out tariff-free access for Australian agricultural produce?
Nothing must threaten our actions to mitigate climate change. Australia is home to large energy and mining firms and has lagged behind other advanced economies when it comes to addressing climate change. Will the Minister guarantee that no deal with Australia will include investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms, or will he press ahead and betray not only today’s public, farmers and animals, but those of future generations?
It is always good to hear from the hon. Gentleman. I noticed in his series of questions that there was, for example, no mention of the £113 million-worth of Scotch whisky sold into Australia at present that is subject to 5% tariffs. Australia is actually the eighth largest market by volume for Scotch and has been growing at 7% per annum. There was no mention of the opportunities for Scottish financial services, FinTech or agrifood more generally—we actually have an agrifood trade surplus with Australia.
The hon. Gentleman quotes NFU Scotland, which has great people. I have met Martin Kennedy personally twice in the last week, as well as the Scottish Government to discuss the prospect of this deal.
Let me reiterate: there will be no change in our standards as a result of this trade deal. We are absolutely committed to no compromise on our animal welfare, food safety or environmental standards.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to rule out tariff-free access to Australian agricultural products. There already is tariff-free access through an autonomous tariff rate quota. I think he seeks a rolling back of the trade arrangements we already have with Australia.
The hon. Gentleman asked about ISDS. It is a live negotiation, and there will be a chapter on investment. We are huge investors in each other’s markets, and I remind him that the UK has never lost an ISDS case.
However, the hon. Gentleman has serious questions to answer, too. Never in 20 years has the SNP supported any trade deal done by the UK or even by the EU, even though key sectors of the Scottish economy, such as whisky, apparel and fisheries, are dependent on our trade. SNP Members voted for a no-deal Brexit. They voted against deals with our friends, such as Canada, South Korea and South Africa. They did not support deals with Japan or Singapore. Whatever assurances I have given him today, or whatever turns out to be in the deal, I do not think it would make him and the SNP support this deal. When it comes to trade, the SNP is isolationist and against the best interests of Scotland.
With the proposed free trade agreement with Australia potentially removing tariffs on all UK exports to Australia, does my right hon. Friend agree that that will save businesses across the United Kingdom millions of pounds—including in Buckinghamshire—support jobs across the nation, boost exports on products such as whisky, gin, cars and cheeses, and bring huge benefits to our agriculture sector?
I know how important my hon. Friend’s agriculture sector is in Buckingham, and I can say that the deal we are trying to secure will be very beneficial to exporters of whisky, biscuits, cars, cheese, apparel, ceramics and gin, including gin makers in his constituency such as Foxdenton, Bucks Brothers and Butlers Cross.
To support its agricultural industry, Australia has the highest rate of deforestation in the OECD and uses 71 hazardous substances that are currently banned in the UK. It is also one of the worst performers in tackling climate change, so how are the UK Government using the offer of zero quota and zero tariff access to persuade Australia to improve performance in this area?
We are the COP26 chairs this year, and we look forward to full Australian participation. The Australian Government are absolutely committed to combating climate change. There may even be something on that in this agreement, which we are negotiating at the moment. In terms of where Australia is overall on our standards, it is worth bearing in mind that it does have high animal welfare standards. It is ranked five out of five by the World Organisation for Animal Health on its evaluation of the performance of veterinary services, and it is worth pointing out that Australian standards are high, but I repeat that there will be no compromise and no change as a result of this free trade agreement to our own food standards.
The Australian free trade agreement is a key step forward for both global Britain and the Indo-Pacific pivot, as well as a stepping stone towards a successful trans-Pacific partnership application. There are wide opportunities for Britain with a key member of the Commonwealth family, but does my right hon. Friend agree, first, that hormone-injected beef is illegal in this country, wherever it comes from? Secondly, does he agree that a combination of staggering the introduction of tariffs and targeted DEFRA assistance will ensure that upland farmers do not suffer in the alarmist way suggested by anti-free trade Opposition parties?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Hormone beef will remain illegal, because we will not be changing our import standards. I do not believe that this deal represents a fundamental threat to UK farmers, and it certainly does not compromise our high standards. As has already been pointed out, any changes for sensitive goods, such as beef and lamb, can be staged. A typical Australian free trade agreement has stages over 10, 12 or 15 years. He is right that there is an opportunity here: a springboard to CPTPP, which I know he understands well as our trade envoy to many parts of south-east Asia.
Farmers in my constituency produce first-class beef to the highest standards both environmentally and in terms of animal welfare, at considerable cost to the family farm. Does the Minister think it is fair to pitch these farmers against Australian farmers and their intensively produced imports, with lesser standards and great environmental impact?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. In fact, I have met the Ulster Farmers Union twice in the past week to discuss these issues in particular. I met Diane Dodds, the Northern Ireland Economy Minister yesterday, and I am meeting Edwin Poots, the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, later today, so we are doing extensive outreach within Northern Ireland.
I would point out to the hon. Lady the huge opportunities for the Northern Irish agriculture sector. The very first beef exported to the United States last year came from Foyle Food Group in Northern Ireland. There are great opportunities for companies such as Moy Park as well in Northern Ireland to be able to export more. We are absolutely confident of being on the front foot, and ensuring that Northern Ireland also benefits from our free trade agreements, as it is written into the Northern Ireland protocol, and is able to sell more of its high quality meat into markets all around the world, including to the CPTPP 11.
Free trade has mutual economic benefits, for not just producers, as we have been discussing, but consumers, who get more choice. We must not lose sight of that. As the Minister said, the understanding is that the proposed free trade agreement with Australia would be a gateway to joining the CPTPP, which is a high-standards free trade agreement of 11 Pacific nations. Does he agree that doing so will mean lower tariffs for British exports to those markets, which will be an incredibly beneficial economic opportunity for British businesses?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right on the CPTPP. He is also right to focus on consumers, who are a vital part of our trade agenda. Under the CPTPP, 95% of tariffs between members will be removed. We already do £110 billion-worth of trade with the CPTPP. It has very liberal rules of origin, gold-standard data and digital rules, a small and medium-sized enterprise chapter, and very favourable conditions for business visas as well. It will be a great agreement for the UK, and a key stepping stone to get there is this free trade agreement with our great friends in Australia.
In an answer to me last Wednesday, the Prime Minister lectured Welsh farmers that they should be selling their beef and lamb to China and the United States. He seemed unaware of one minor detail: that we do not have a trade deal with either country. When will Welsh families be able to sell their lamb and beef to China and the United States, and what should Welsh farming families do in the meantime as the Government trash their income with this bad Australia deal?
Again, we have done extensive outreach in Wales in recent times. I have met twice with both NFU Cymru and the Farmers’ Union of Wales. I also met with the Welsh Minister Vaughan Gething just yesterday. There are already British exports of beef and lamb to China, and of beef to the United States. I mentioned the first consignment of beef arriving last year. Getting our lamb into the United States is one of the key priorities of our trade agenda moving forward, but the China example shows that we do not always have to have a free trade agreement to be able to open doors for our high-quality agricultural produce. We have opened doors for British beef into Japan and British pork into Taiwan in recent years as well.
Alongside our farmers, car manufacturers such as Nissan play a key role in constituencies such as mine, helping to secure high-skilled jobs and to create new opportunities for people across Stockton South and the north-east. In 2019, Nissan UK exported around 10,000 cars to Australia and another 10,000 in 2020. What impact might the free trade agreement with Australia have on UK car manufacturers such as Nissan?
My hon. Friend is right: 10,000 cars go from Sunderland alone each year to Australia. That is a big volume of cars and a big amount of receipts as well. Cars make up just under 8% of all UK exports to Australia. They currently attract a 5% tariff. We are looking to reduce or remove that tariff in the agreement, and I look forward to making progress precisely on that issue to bring joy to his constituents soon.
Over 200 years ago during the highland clearances, people were shamefully replaced by sheep, for landlords’ profits. Now this trade deal threatens the supplanting of those sheep by cheap imports, for Tory dogma. What does it say about the Tory Government that they do not even care about Scottish sheep, let alone Scottish crofters and farmers?
Well, let me say a few things about that. We have to understand the existing trade flows in beef and lamb from Australia. We have to understand the beef prices. Production costs in some of those Asian markets are twice those in the UK, which makes it very competitive for Australia to sell into markets such as Japan and Korea, where the domestic production price of beef, for example, is twice that in the UK. The Australian lamb quota for the UK is not even fully used at the moment.
Compromising on the high food standards we enjoy here in the UK must never be allowed; that is something on which we must never compromise. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a free trade agreement with Australia will not allow hormone-fed beef into the UK, and that it will never be allowed to enter the UK under any free trade agreement?
I can absolutely confirm that hormone beef will not be allowed into this country, and there will be no compromise, according to the manifesto that my hon. Friend and I stood on in December 2019—no compromise on our high standards of animal welfare, food safety and the environment—but that does not prevent us from importing produce from Australia. We already receive Australian beef and lamb. It is high quality, and I believe strongly that Australia will continue to sell good, high-quality produce to this country, which of course must continue to meet our unchanged import standards.
I recognise that the Minister is keen to highlight new markets for UK agrifood producers. However, the EU will remain by far the UK’s largest partner in food exports and imports. To what extent will any free trade agreement with Australia complicate or even preclude a UK-EU veterinary agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary issues, which surely should be a greater priority for the Government to assist UK food exporters and to address some of the tensions around the Northern Ireland protocol?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. He is right that the EU will remain a large and important trading partner for us, particularly in agriculture. On his question about what impact an agreement with Australia would have, look, there will be no change to our standards as a result of the FTA—no change to our import standards. It should not have any impact on the EU.
We already have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, which is the trade and co-operation agreement, and I should point out that the EU has an extensive veterinary agreement with New Zealand. That agreement is of great interest in terms of it recognising the equivalence of New Zealand’s veterinary outcomes. I do not see any danger in a free trade agreement with Australia with respect to being able to maintain our trade with the EU.
Without doubt, farming is one of Britain’s finest industries, and we all want to ensure that British food production has the best opportunities available to it, so will my right hon. Friend explain the role that the newly created Trade and Agriculture Commission will play in scrutinising the free trade agreement? Will he also comment on the opportunities the FTA will create in Australia for our British food producers, as well as in the wider Asia-Pacific?
My hon. Friend is right: this is about opportunity for the UK overall, and specifically for agriculture. It is a gateway to joining CPTPP. New trade deals will bring new export opportunities to British farmers. Global demand for beef and lamb is soaring. We should be wanting to fill part of that global demand. Meat consumption is projected to rise nearly 73% by 2050, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
I simply do not understand the Government’s logic: good-quality British farming undermined, high animal welfare standards compromised, jobs and livelihoods bartered away—all for no financial gain to British farmers, but at significant cost to our climate. Will the Minister assure me that he will not sign any trade deal with Australia until he has satisfactorily answered the five challenges that Minette Batters of the National Farmers Union has set out today, which have the full support of farmers—first protecting their interests, rather than his own?
I have already spoken about climate and the Australian Government’s commitment to the Paris accord, which we warmly welcome. We work very well together with Australia on environmental issues. On standards, I have already answered: there will be no compromise on our standards. May I say something about Australian animal welfare standards, as they sometimes get a little maligned in the press? They are ranked five out of five by the body concerned, the World Organisation for Animal Health—the OIE. Australia already sells naturally-grown beef and lamb into the UK. Our import standards will remain the same after the deal as before. For example, any hormone-grown beef would not meet our import standards.
Businesses across the High Peak would welcome a trade deal with Australia, and the opportunities and jobs that that would bring. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the hill farmers of the Peak District, who, as we all know, produce the world’s best quality lamb, that their interests will be safeguarded and that the Government remain committed to the UK’s world-leading animal welfare standards, food standards and environmental protections?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I do not know of a bigger champion of his local farmers in the High Peak than him. He is right to say that there are opportunities here in exporting for his local farmers. I have already mentioned the US, where British lamb is currently not allowed in at all. Again there is big, fast-growing Asian demand for high-quality meat and the UK will be seeking a piece of the action by joining CPTPP, which I know will bring benefit to his excellent local farmers.
A huge number of constituents have written to me with deep concerns that the Government will sell out our standards for a trade deal. Although the UK is a world leader in sustainable farming and high animal welfare standards, Australian agriculture lags far behind. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Trade Justice Movement and Compassion in World Farming have voiced concerns that a deal with Australia would
“betray the public, farmers and animals”.
Chlorine-washed chicken, sow crates and battery-caged hens are all banned in the UK but are common practice in Australia. The Government have repeatedly promised that food standards will not be lowered in any trade negotiations, but can the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee and promise us that this tariff deal will guarantee that goods made to a lower standard will not be imported to the UK?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, and there is a cast-iron guarantee that our standards will not be compromised on. She is an SNP Member, so may I say to her that it would be high time for the SNP to start thinking about whether it will ever back any trade deals? It never backed any trade deals promoted by the European Union, let alone by the UK, and the SNP aspires to rejoin the EU. On Australian standards, she might want to have a word with RSPCA Australia. I have already pointed out that Australian animal health standards are rated five out of five. Australia has also banned some practices that are not banned in the EU, such as the castration of chickens or the production of foie gras. So if she sat down with the RSPCA Australia, it might give her a robust view of how good Australian animal welfare standards are.
May I commend my right hon. Friend on the trade deals that have been secured so far? Can he confirm that all these trade deals and the proposed one with Australia will add value to the UK economy without compromising existing trading arrangements with high-value, mature markets such as the EU, which are crucial to exporters in my constituency?
My hon. Friend is right on that and he is right to highlight that this is not an either/or; this is not either we have trade with the EU or we have trade with non-EU trading partners. It is absolutely our objective, going back to the manifesto he and I were both elected on, to have 80% of UK trade to be covered by free trade agreements within three years. That includes the EU, but it also includes new trading partners. CPTPP represents 13% of GDP—that would rise to 16% when the UK joined- and it crosses four continents, including old friends such as Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and New Zealand, as well as growing markets such as Vietnam and Mexico, where there are great opportunities for us to sell more UK agricultural produce and other things into.
When I met farmers in Luton South, they stressed to me the importance of trade deals not undercutting our food and animal welfare standards. In Australia, live farm animals can be transported over land for slaughter for up to 48 hours without rest—six times the limit that is currently allowed in Britain. On the grounds of both ensuring a level, competitive playing field and ensuring the humane treatment of farm animals, does the Minister think it is appropriate to reduce tariffs to zero on meat from animals that have been subject to that sort of cruelty?
I refer the hon. Lady back to the fact that Australia is highly rated by independent bodies for its high quality of animal health, rated five out of five by the World Organisation for Animal Health, and our import standards would not change as a result of this or any other free trade agreement.
It seems that the animal welfare and food standards scaremongering is out in full force again. Does my right hon. Friend agree that given that Australia’s food standards are better than the European Union’s and that its animal welfare is equivalent to the United Kingdom’s, a free trade agreement with us will have an absolutely negligible impact on our own high UK standards?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As we have said repeatedly, there will be no compromise on our own standards. I agree that Australia ranks very well overall. Obviously its standards are different, but overall its animal welfare standards rank extremely highly—five out of five. As I said, it banned practices that are prevalent in the EU, such as the castration of chickens and the production of foie gras. It is not a simple like-for-like comparison. The most important thing to note, though, is that our import standards will not be changed as a result of the deal.
I do just wonder whether the Minister is aware that New Zealand and Australia are actually different countries. Farmers in Wales are very concerned about this deal, and rightly so in Gower. What reassurances can he give that unilateral trade liberalisation with Australia will not set a precedent for future deals?
I am well aware that Australia and New Zealand are different countries. As the parliamentary president of Conservative Friends of Australia, I am pretty familiar with our two great friends and allies on the other side of the world. I think the hon. Lady is exaggerating the threat, as she sees it, from Australian agriculture. Australia is already exporting hugely into Asia, which is where our opportunities lie as well. When it comes to British beef in our supermarkets, there is strong “buy British” branding in the UK, and I do not see that changing overnight. Some 81% of beef sold in the UK has either UK or other home nations branding, and 100% in many of our major supermarkets. I do not see that changing as a result of any trade deal.
I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree that these trade deals should not be seen as the end of a conversation but the start of an ongoing one. Can he assure my constituents in the Black Country and businesses in the residual supply chain that, going forward, they will be placed at the heart of his negotiating strategy and that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In any trade deal, we have to look across the whole piece. His question is just about agriculture, but we should look at the other opportunities for the Black Country to benefit from—for example, 5% car tariffs and the huge amount of machinery sold by this country into Australia, including from Northern Ireland. There are other great opportunities in, for example, financial services, gin, vodka and cheese. Australian cheese tariffs can be as high as 21%. There are big opportunities for UK exporters not limited just to agriculture.
Farmers in Scotland and across the UK fear this trade deal with Australia could put them out of businesses and flood our supermarkets shelves with inferior-quality products. I know that the Minister rejects that and does not recognise those fears as being valid, so can he explain why it seems that our farmers and consumers simply do not understand how fabulous this deal is, or could it be that the Government are being disingenuous about the impact this deal will have on our farmers and our food?
The hon. Lady used the word “disingenuous”, but I notice that, while she talks a good game about supporting British meat farming, her neighbouring SNP council, South Ayrshire Council, put out a tweet just recently encouraging residents to eat 75% less red meat. She cannot have it both ways: she cannot be encouraging less red meat consumption and then complaining about a trade deal that she thinks will import a lot more of it. I remind her that Scotland will benefit very strongly from this deal. I notice, again, that we do not hear anything from the SNP about Scotch whisky and the huge amount of other Scottish goods that we are selling in Australia through this deal.
Mr Speaker, the deep historical relationship that we have with Australia is perhaps exemplified by the fact that your Chair is a gift from Australia. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this agreement is an opportunity to deepen the relationship with our kith and kin in Australia and should be celebrated and championed and not denigrated?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have relatives right the way across Australia. My aunt emigrated there—I cannot remember what they were called. Was it the ten bob poms?
The ten pound poms.
The ten pound poms! Thank you, Mr Speaker. My aunt emigrated there in what must have been the late ‘50s. I have relatives there; many of us have relatives there. We have an incredibly strong and close relationship with Australia. It is not just about family and kinship; it runs across defence, security, culture and sport, and also trade. Australia is a major country when it comes to promoting global free trade. That is exactly the right place for this country to be in as well.
There is concern from farmers in Wales and across the UK who face the potential of losing out from an unlevel playing field as a result of this deal. Will the Minister publish a rigorous economic assessment of cumulative impacts on our farming communities if zero-tariff and zero-quota deals are agreed not only with Australia, but with other countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and others?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In the past week, I have met twice with NFU Cymru and the Farmers Union of Wales to discuss a particular point. Before each negotiation, we publish a scoping assessment, which, obviously, does not have any idea what may or may not be in the deal. It looks at the concept of the deal. We then publish an impact assessment, which we will be doing later this year, when we can see the text of the deal. We will be involving Parliament, in the way that we did when we set up the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and that will inform that debate going forward. That is the right way to proceed and I am confident that our scrutiny arrangements are absolutely robust.
A free trade agreement between the UK and Australia is something that I welcome, as it can be of huge benefit to both our countries. We are the closest of friends and share so much in common. However, I share the concerns of farmers in Cumbria and across the UK that the FTA might damage our farming sector. It is important that Parliament is able to scrutinise these FTAs—something that is not happening with this deal. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process is insufficient and the much-welcomed Trade and Agriculture Commission that we all fought for is now not currently constituted and is therefore not looking at this deal. Will the Government commit to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of this agreement and act to reconstitute the Trade and Agriculture Commission immediately, and also consider tariff-rate quotas as a sensible way of safeguarding the agreement?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is hugely knowledgeable of this sector, especially in relation to agriculture, and I respect that. I am pleased that he welcomes the deal overall. The deal is not done yet, which is the first important thing to recognise. There is no text in front of us to scrutinise. The reconstituted Trade and Agriculture Commission will be set up soon and definitely in good time to scrutinise this deal. When it comes to safeguards, again that will be specified in the free trade agreement, but typically it will allow either party temporarily to increase tariffs or to suspend liberalisation in the event of an unexpected or unforeseen substantial increase in imports. Again, it is normal that, in a free trade agreement, those safeguards are in place.
Contrary to what the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, I am not a member of a right-wing think tank; I am the son of a farmer and I represent a farming constituency. Nevertheless, I am very supportive of any trade deal with Australia that maintains a fair and level playing field. Will my right hon. Friend set out what exact role the Trade and Agriculture Commission will play in making sure that that is the case?
I thank my hon. Friend, not least for his expertise in this sector. The role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is set out in statute in both the Agriculture Act 2020 and the Trade Act 2021. We are expecting it to be set up soon, and we also have to respond to the report from the original Trade and Agriculture Commission set up last summer. I would expect it to be a panel of experts who will provide this Parliament—both Houses—with expert insight into the terms of this or any other free trade agreement, particularly in relation to agriculture and standards.
Does the Minister appreciate that doing this deal with Australia would wreck the UK’s reputation on environmental issues, since Australia has the highest rate of deforestation in the OECD, driven by the livestock industry, and Australian agriculture uses 71 highly hazardous substances that are banned in the UK, including neonicotinoids and hormone injections for beef? Does he think losing that reputation is a price worth paying for this trade deal?
I am slightly surprised by the hon. Lady’s question, and again I repeat the fact that the SNP has never supported any trade deal so I am slightly doubtful that whatever reassurances I give her will make her change her mind. However, I say again that there will be no compromise on the UK’s food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards in relation to this or any other free trade agreement. Hormone-injected beef will not be allowed into this country. It is not allowed into this country today; our standards will be unchanged and it will not be allowed in the future. Australia does sell us beef and lamb, however, and I expect that will continue under this agreement.
As my right hon. Friend has said, global demand for lamb and beef is rising rapidly, particularly for British meats around the Asian-Pacific market. Does he therefore agree that the free trade agreements that he has already made and is currently pursuing are creating fantastic opportunities for British farmers, as confirmed by Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, in her email to us earlier today?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is about opportunities; this is about opportunities for using UK free trade agreements to enter fast-growing markets around the world—the opportunity provided by the gateway of joining the CPTPP, a high-standards free trade agreement of 11 Pacific nations. However, we are not just waiting for free trade agreements; we are using talks on market access to make sure that our agricultural produce gets sold into the likes of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others using our joint economic and trade committee, and making sure that, wherever possible, we can meet the growing demand for high-quality meat products in particular in Asian markets. I said earlier that meat consumption is projected to rise by nearly 73% by 2050; the vast majority of that will be in those fast-growing Asian markets.
I am now suspending the House for two minutes for the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.