I call the Secretary of State for International Development—[Interruption.] Oh, I beg the right hon. Lady’s pardon. I have just called the wrong Secretary of State. Take two: I call the Secretary of State for International Trade.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In a former incarnation, I was indeed in that other role.
I am really delighted to be able to report to the House that, just before Christmas, the Australian Trade Minister, Dan Tehan, and I signed a comprehensive free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Australia. This agreement deepens our bond of common values and a shared belief in the combined power of democracy, free trade and high standards. This is the first new trade deal the UK has negotiated from scratch since leaving the European Union. It is truly a world-class partnership, allowing our businesses to trade and invest more freely.
The deal will uphold high standards and foster collaboration on challenges such as tackling climate change, unfair trading practices and growing the low-carbon economy, going further than ever before in many important areas and showing what we can do as an independent trading nation. It eliminates tariffs on 100% of UK exports, and includes flexible rules of origin, meaning that UK businesses can use some imported parts and ingredients, and still qualify for the new 0% tariffs when exporting to Australia. It gives UK firms new legally guaranteed access to bids for over £10 billion of Australian Government contracts on an equal footing with Australian firms. It provides unprecedented new opportunities for young Britons to live and work in Australia, and it paves the way for the UK to join the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, or CPTPP, which would further open 11 markets worth £8.4 trillion in GDP for British exporters and investors. Accession to the CPTPP could see 99.9% of UK exports being eligible for tariff-free trade with some of the biggest economies of the present and future, from Japan to Mexico, and from Canada to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Unlike EU membership, it would achieve that while allowing us to continue to keep control over our laws, our borders and our money.
This deal is expected to increase trade with Australia by more than 50%. It is expected to add £900 million to household wages, and to deliver a boost for the economy of over £2 billion by 2035—compared with what we would see if we did not have a deal—benefiting communities and helping to level up every region and nation of our United Kingdom.
The agreement that I have signed delivers for the whole of the Union. The economies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are estimated to benefit from a combined boost of £200 million, and the economic impact assessment that we have published shows that the west midlands, the north-east, the north-west, the south-east, the south-west and Wales are set to see the biggest proportional gains. The deal will benefit Scotland’s financial services industry, boost innovative aerospace design and manufacture in the west midlands, provide new opportunities for Welsh fintech companies, allow Northern Ireland’s manufacturers to export more competitively, and help car makers to support thousands of jobs in the north-east.
The agreement means that Australia will remove tariffs from all its UK imports, making it more competitive for the 15,300 UK businesses who currently export iconic products such as Jaguar and Aston Martin cars, Scotch whisky, London gin and UK fashion to Australia. It will encourage new companies to enter the market, including small businesses and family-run firms which will find it easier, cheaper and faster to sell their fantastic goods and services to Australia for the first time. It also delivers for consumers. The removal of UK tariffs on Australian favourites such as Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines will help to keep prices down. UK manufacturers will benefit from cheaper access to important Australian machinery parts, allowing them to be more competitive and to grow.
The agreement means that investing in Australia will be easier than ever before. It more than quadruples the threshold that UK investments need to meet before being subject to review by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board, which will help to save time, save money and cut red tape. The UK’s world-class services industry will now have unprecedented and legally guaranteed access to the Australian market, allowing UK legal and engineering firms to compete on an equal footing with domestic firms in Australia.
Ambitious tech start-ups, financial services firms and the creative sectors will benefit from new opportunities to trade digitally. The agreement secures the free flow of data while locking in a legal requirement for personal data protection in both countries, guarantees fair access to Australia for telecoms companies, and forges greater co-operation on 5G and cyber-security. It includes the world’s first dedicated innovation chapter in a free trade agreement, establishing a strategic innovation dialogue to ensure that the deal keeps up with technological developments and drives the commercialisation of new technologies.
Our British businesses will also benefit from unrivalled new access to business visas, allowing staff to relocate more easily and travel more freely to work in Australia. It will enable Britons aged 18 to 35 to travel and work in Australia for up to three years, and they will no longer have to work on a farm to obtain a working holiday maker visa. Australian firms will no longer have to prioritise hiring Australian nationals over a British national. Additionally, executives and managers who are transferred to their company locations in Australia will have the right to stay for four years instead of two. They can also bring their spouses and dependent children, who will have the same four-year right to work.
The agreement has been crafted through consultation with UK businesses and interested parties at all stages of the negotiations. It offers a suite of arrangements going further than Australia has ever gone with any other country in a free trade agreement, which is a testament to the strength of our relationship and the hard work of my brilliant officials at the Department for International Trade and their Australian counterparts. It includes ambitious commitments to work together in addressing the shared challenges of environmental conservation, women’s economic empowerment and poverty reduction. It includes a commitment to maintain high animal welfare standards.
We have also secured protections relevant to the NHS and Australia’s health system in the agreement, which keep the NHS out of scope of the agreement. The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector.
British food and drink is world-renowned for its quality, and this trade deal will deliver benefits to the industry—from tariff-free access to the Australian market to faster customs arrangements. The deal could see a wide range of iconic UK products, including Scotch whisky, Irish cream and Welsh cider, given protected geographical indication status in Australia. By creating new opportunities, this deal will help continue a trend of booming UK food and drink exports to Australia, which have more than doubled in the last decade. So we should be unafraid of fair competition and positive about the export opportunities that exist.
Let me also take the opportunity to alleviate the concerns of some colleagues regarding meat imports from Australia. The reality is that beef imports from Australia account for only a small fraction of our overall beef imports. Just 0.1% of all Australian beef exports went to the UK last year. Also, it is relatively unlikely that large volumes of beef and sheep will be diverted to the UK from lucrative markets in Asia, which are much closer to Australia. More than 75% of Australian beef and 70% of Australian sheepmeat exports last year went to markets in Asia and the Pacific—markets that we are also keen to grow in through our membership of the CPTPP.
With regard to animal welfare and food standards, we have been clear throughout this process that we will not compromise on our high standards, and we have delivered on that. All imports into the UK will have to comply with our existing food standards requirements—including the ban on hormone-treated beef. The deal also includes a dedicated chapter and non-regression clause on animal welfare. This will help to ensure that neither country lowers their animal welfare standards in a manner that impacts trade.
This agreement also supports the UK’s climate change commitments, reaffirming both parties’ commitments to all of the Paris agreement objectives—the first time that Australia has included a substantive climate change article in any trade deal. It also sets out areas for future co-operation on emissions reduction, zero emissions technology, energy efficiency and sustainable transport. So UK businesses will benefit from zero tariffs on all low-carbon exports to Australia, including of wind turbine parts and electric vehicles, creating more opportunities to grow the low-carbon economy.
The Government are committed to transparency and inclusiveness in all our future trading arrangements, and the House will now have substantial opportunity to scrutinise this deal in detail. We have already presented the full treaty text, a draft explanatory memorandum and the independently scrutinised impact assessment to Parliament, and we anticipate that there will now be a period of several months before the agreement is formally laid before Parliament for the 21 sitting days of formal scrutiny under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, otherwise known as CRaG. That will allow ample time for the Trade and Agriculture Commission to prepare its advice, as well as for the International Trade Committee and International Agreements Committee to produce a report on the agreement, should they so wish. I have already written to the new Trade and Agriculture Commission to seek its advice on the deal with respect to our domestic statutory protections for agriculture. That will help me to inform the Government’s own report on this issue, as required under section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020. I also wish to highlight that any legislative changes required to give effect to the deal will be scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way ahead of ratification.
So this is a landmark agreement and will be a feature of the relationship between our two great countries for many years to come. As a newly independent trading nation, the UK is reaching out to seize the opportunities of the future—opportunities that we are uniquely well placed to take. The deal I have signed with Australia, one of our closest and most important allies, is just the latest chapter in our progress towards that brighter future, forging an open, enterprising economy, enabling us to build back better from the pandemic, and levelling up every region and nation of our United Kingdom.
I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it.
I would say at the outset that we on the Labour Benches are in favour of negotiating trade deals that benefit UK workers and businesses and promote our values around the world, and we will not hold the Government to impossible standards, but we will hold Ministers to what they have promised people they will deliver from the negotiations. Those promises make it even more important that Ministers show strength at the negotiating table and defend UK interests to the utmost. Other countries, in future negotiations, will look at what was conceded to the Australian negotiators and take it as a starting point.
We already have a UK-Japan trade deal that benefits Japanese exporters five times as much as it does UK exporters. A worrying pattern is emerging of not standing up for UK interests. It is what makes the Government’s failure in so many aspects of this deal so costly for the United Kingdom. The Government’s own impact assessment shows a £94 million hit to our farming, forestry and fishing sectors and a £225 million hit to our semi-processed food industry.
The Government claim that they are trying to mitigate that with tariff-free access being phased in over several years, but what is being done is totally inadequate. On beef and sheepmeat, the phasing-in period is 15 years, but the quotas being set by the Government for imports from Australia are far higher than the current level of imports. On beef imports, for example, when Japan negotiated a deal with Australia it limited the tariff-free increase in the first year to 10% on the previous year. South Korea achieved something similar and limited the increase to 7%. But this Government have negotiated a first-year tariff-free allowance of a 6,000% increase on the amount of beef the UK currently imports from Australia. On sheepmeat, in the first year of the deal, the Government have conceded a 67% increase in the tariff-free quota. Why did Ministers not achieve the same as Japan and South Korea?
Why have Ministers failed to ensure that Australian agricultural corporations are not held to the same high standards as our farmers? The Secretary of State mentioned animal welfare standards in her statement, but what the Government have agreed is a non-regression clause. To be clear, that does not mean that the standards will be the same in both countries. That is not fair competition. What will actually happen is that meat produced to far lower animal welfare standards will get tariff-free access to the UK market. So much for the promise of the Secretary of State’s predecessor that the Government had no intention of striking a deal that did not benefit our farmers. Is it any wonder that Australia’s former negotiator at the WTO said:
“I don’t think we have ever done as well as this”?
On climate change, which the Secretary of State mentioned, the COP26 president said, on 1 December, that the deal would reaffirm
“both parties’ commitments to upholding our obligations under the Paris agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°.”—[Official Report, 1 December 2021; Vol. 704, c. 903.]
But an explicit commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5° is not in the deal. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us what went wrong in those final days. Does the Secretary of State also accept that the failure to include that explicitly in this important deal damages the UK’s ability to lead on climate change on the world stage—[Interruption.] Ministers shout at me, but they told the House on 1 December that it would be included. What went wrong?
The Secretary of State has confirmed that she has asked the Trade and Agriculture Commission, as she is required to do, for advice on the impact of the deal on statutory protections for agriculture. Will she confirm when the Government’s own report will be available?
On scrutiny, why are the Government promising a monitoring report approximately two years after the agreement comes into effect, and every two years thereafter? Why not every year? In addition, the Secretary of State spoke about the impact of trade deals on the whole of the United Kingdom. Can she confirm what steps she will take to address any concerns raised by the devolved Administrations, and how she will formally involve them in the ratification process?
Tariff-free access to our UK market is a prize Ministers should not give away easily. However, looking at the concessions made by this Government, are people not right to worry that the Government are more interested in a quick press release announcing a completed deal than they are in standing up for UK jobs and livelihoods?
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman supports international trade, but I come away slightly less than enthused that he is genuine in that, and I hope we will be able to persuade him in the months and years ahead that the Government’s commitment to giving UK businesses the opportunity to share their incredible goods and services around the world is absolutely the focus of the work we are doing. I will try to cover all the points he raised, but if I miss any, I will be happy to write and confirm them.
On quotas, let us be clear—I highlighted this in my statement—that the vast majority of beef and sheepmeat being sold from Australia is going to the Asia-Pacific for the time being, and the quotas have been brought in on a very clear and slow trajectory to allow our farmers to consider the markets. Really importantly, we are looking much more widely, and this is the first of what I hope will be many deals; indeed, this is about not only free trade agreements, but the removal of various barriers to exports—things such as the lamb export ban that has been in place with the US for over 20 years. Just before Christmas, we agreed that it would be removed so that our lamb farmers would be able to export some of the finest lamb in the world—I speak with a personal interest, from Northumbria farmers’ perspective—into US markets for the first time in two decades. So there are some really exciting things coming, and the Australia deal is the first of many deals that will afford our businesses, including our farmers, many new market opportunities.
On standards, the animal welfare chapter is the first one the Australians have ever done. Their commitment to moving forwards—as the right hon. Gentleman says, there is the non-regression piece—and to working with us is really important. In the same way that the environmental chapter does, that commitment shows their very clear policy objective as a nation to move forwards. The environmental chapter is, again, the first they have ever committed to, and in it they have committed to the Paris agreement. As we were in the final throes of the negotiations—I was very much involved, and it was a great honour, at COP26 with the President of COP26—Australia brought forward a net zero commitment, which is something that many have failed to do in Australian politics. That commitment, alongside this environmental chapter, shows a very strong commitment by the Australians to move forward on this issue. We will work together, not only as mutual friends and allies, but with other countries to help them meet their net zero commitment. That is a really important commitment.
This is a broad, liberal agreement; we talk about tariff-free access to the UK, but we also have tariff-free access to Australian markets. This is a broad, liberalising, fair and well-balanced trade deal between partners who want to work together as closely as possible in the decades ahead.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her achievement in this trade deal? She is absolutely right that, despite the fact that we have signed 70 trade deals, this is the first ab initio trade deal that we have signed as an independent nation. I hope there will be many more agreements, including with the Kingdom of Thailand, for which I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy.
My right hon. Friend rightly talks about the scrutiny process for these trade deals, and as a member of the International Trade Committee I can confirm that it is a fantastically complicated proposition to try to go through these deals. She mentioned three items that are incredibly important to the scrutiny process, but can she give a more specific indication of when we expect the Trade and Agriculture Commission report and the Government’s section 42 report and when the CRaG process will be triggered? Could she also consider publishing the Government’s negotiating positions in future trade deals, so that we can scrutinise and compare what is achieved against what was intended?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is a former Minister in the Department, for all his work and for his continued passion and commitment in driving forward the UK’s opportunities to find these fantastic trade deals. He is now doing great work with Thailand, and it is interesting that we already have nearly £5 billion-worth of bilateral trade with Thailand. So many countries are knocking at the door saying, “We want to do more. We want to have better deals with you.” That is a really exciting and strong message. Now that we are on the global platform, those countries want to do that trade, because they know that we have the best businesses in the world and they want to have a close relationship with us. I think it is very exciting.
In answer to my hon. Friend’s question on parliamentary scrutiny, he is not wrong. It is a relatively complex journey that we are about to take with our first deal. We anticipate that there will be a period probably of several months before we lay everything before Parliament. We have asked the Trade and Agriculture Commission to crack on with its review, and once it reports back to me, I can submit the section 42 measure required by the legislation, and I hope that his Committee and the Committee in the other place will submit their own perspectives once they have had a chance to look through—I apologise for this, but in a way I do not—what is a very large tome of nearly 2,000 pages.
A good new year to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to colleagues.
I, too, am grateful for sight of the statement by the Secretary of State. Trade deals are the ultimate curate’s egg—there are things to admire and things to dislike in all of them. There are things to admire in this deal. I am grateful for that, and I welcome such progress as has been made. In the European Parliament, I was in favour of ambitious trade deals, and often found myself voting against the deals that had been negotiated because I thought that they could go further on environmental standards, human rights and climate change. In this deal, there really is a missed opportunity on climate change. It could have gone an awful lot further with one of the key countries in the world in the fight against climate change, and the standards could have been an awful lot higher.
I am struck, as ever, by the capacity of Government Members to become giddy with excitement about the upsides and hypothetical benefits of Brexit while ignoring the real-world consequences in the cost and heartache of leaving the European Union—in Scotland’s case, very much against our will. In the best-case scenario, taking the Government’s figures at their best, this deal will increase UK GDP by 0.08% by 2035. That is not nothing—and I welcome it—but the Office for Budget Responsibility, by contrast, has calculated that we will lose a full 4% of GDP. We need to look at that in the round, and Members need to see the deal in context.
This is not the last time that we will discuss this issue, so I will limit my remarks to agriculture and future scrutiny. I quote Martin Kennedy, the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland:
“The final deal…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”.
I could not have said it better. If covid and Brexit have taught us anything it is that indigenous food production across these islands—indeed, across this continent—and short supply chains are vital to our national security and national resilience, however we define “national”. Anything that undermines that will be viewed with extreme scepticism by SNP Members.
On scrutiny, to what extent can anyone influence a deal that has already been signed? If the Trade and Agriculture Commission makes a recommendation against part of this deal, what happens? That is a genuine question. What input will there be for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Senedd and the Northern Ireland Assembly. If any of them says no to any part of the deal, what happens?
I am thrilled to hear that the hon. Gentleman is a supporter of ambitious trade deals, and I look forward to working closely with him in the months and years ahead as we continue to do many more. This is the first of many. It is an exciting, broad, liberalising trade deal for both parties, and I am disappointed that he thinks differently. Australia has for the first time ever agreed to an environmental chapter and made climate change commitments to embed in a treaty with us its commitment to the Paris agreement, which we all understand very clearly and which was reiterated at COP26 in Glasgow. The aim to keep 1.5 alive continues to be the commitment that the world makes. Australia has, as I have just said, made the commitment for the first time to a net zero strategy for its own nation. We should commend its effort to do that and its willingness to embed in a treaty with the UK—a world-leading nation when it comes to driving the environmental agenda—the fact that it wants to work closely with us to make sure that we make progress.
I am disappointed to hear about the views of a few in Scotland. I hope that as they have had the chance to read the document over the Christmas holidays, perhaps having a few days off for rest, because it is a weighty tome, they have discovered the safeguards that we have built in for farmers, which address some of the anxieties that were raised with us in extensive consultation with many partners throughout food and drink supply chains. They will find that those measures are robust and they should be reassured. I am incredibly proud of the indigenous food production that comes out of all parts of the United Kingdom. Scotland should be proud of its beef and Scotch whisky for instance, and I think Scottish producers will take great advantage of the tariff liberalisation on Scotch whisky.
I also welcome this trade deal, because I think democratically it is of great importance, but of course indigenous food supply and making sure we maintain our high welfare standards are important not only to animal welfare but to keeping British farming competitive. Can the Secretary of State assure me that there is enough protection for British farming in this trade deal? When the Trade and Agriculture Commission comes forward with its findings, will she take heed and go along with them rather than, dare I say it, override them?
I thank my hon. Friend for his commitment as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and also for his support of the free trade deal and indeed what international trade affords all of our amazing food and drink producers, who have some of the finest foods and drinks in the world.
To reassure my hon. Friend on the safeguards, which are as robust as they come, we have secured three levels of protection. The first, the tariff rate quota, sets a maximum level for tariff-free imports in the first 10 years; specific agricultural products are listed and anything above that would face a much higher tariff. The second level applies from years 11 to 15 of the agreement and is known as the product specific safeguard; it has a broadly similar effect, bringing high tariffs above a volume threshold. The third is a general bilateral safeguard mechanism, or temporary safety net, allowing measures to be imposed in the form of increasing tariffs or the suspension of tariff liberalisation completely under the agreement for up to four years, and they can be applied on all products liberalised under the agreement at any point to protect a particular domestic industry. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.
Absolutely. We hope that the TAC review will give us a good report and we await that; this cohort is there exactly to answer some of the challenges and anxieties brought to us, and I am very hopeful that we will pass its examination well. In addition, going forward, as I mentioned earlier, we are opening up many other new markets for our farmers, not only because we want our indigenous food suppliers to thrive, but because we want to make sure the rest of the world can enjoy their products too.
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The Secretary of State will know that at some point we will need to have a sanitary and phytosanitary agreement with the EU; that is in the interests of our agricultural community across the board, and in Northern Ireland in particular. Can she give an absolute guarantee that there is nothing in this agreement or any other negotiations she is contemplating that would put that SPS agreement at risk?
I know that the Secretary of State cares a lot about services trade and the positive impact that that can have not just for Britain but across the world, and I welcome what she said in her statement about what is in this particular trade agreement. Will she set out in detail how she thinks this trade agreement is a step forward for services, particularly business and professional services, and commit to working with me and others outside the House over the next few weeks and months to strengthen our services offer in trade deals, not just this one per se but other deals that we are seeking to do in the coming months and years?
Absolutely. Our services sectors are second only in the world. They are a fantastic part of our export market, and we want to make sure that we showcase them in all the trade deals we do and find the best tools and opportunities to share them across the world. This particular deal, as I set out in my statement, has a number of important mobility features to help provide certainty and longer continuity for those who want to move into these sectors. There is also a huge amount of opportunity through the £10 billion of Government procurement that is now available to UK businesses. This will continue to be a central part of every free trade deal that we look to arrange, and I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss it in more detail.
When we compare the original economic impact assessment of the Australia deal, which was released back in the summer, with the Government’s impact assessment published last month, we see that there has been a 1,000% increase in the estimated boost to UK GDP, but the small print makes it clear that that is because the Government have changed the economic model they are using to analyse the deal to one that produces a higher estimate of GDP. Can the Trade Secretary present any justification for this change, or is it simply a case of cooking the books?
Last year’s impact assessment was obviously a snapshot at the time. As the deal has continued to evolve from the agreement in principle back in June 2021, which was 12 pages of broad-brush direction of travel, the team has genuinely worked tirelessly. Working with a country in a different time zone, the team has worked through the night for many months to make sure that we drew this deal together. The continued development of all these areas has enabled us to review the original assessment. I am very happy for my officials to sit down with the hon. Lady to talk her through in more detail how we have reached this point. All these things are a moment in time, and we now have an assessment that I very much hope will be an underestimate as we see new business—we have been working on the basis of the existing businesses. We look to new businesses taking up the opportunities that this trade deal affords, so that we can grow our bilateral trade even further.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on this very encouraging agreement. She says that more than 15,000 companies already export to Australia and that she wants to encourage small family businesses to do so, too. I urge her to build on the excellent support that the Department gives to such businesses, as we need to encourage more businesses, particularly small businesses, into the export market. What will the Department do to enhance the existing service in that respect?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is an active and effective trade envoy to the Balkans. He raises an important point, and we have a great opportunity to help small businesses, which have fantastic goods and services, to take up the opportunities that these free trade deals will afford them and to find new export markets. The Minister for Exports, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), has taken on that challenge with gusto.
With the export support service and a number of other tools, we are driving forward the opportunities that organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI provide to encourage businesses that have not yet tested the opportunity to export, so that we can share the amazing goods and services they produce with the rest of the world.
I welcome a trade deal with our allies, friends and family in Australia, especially for the motor industry. Along with AUKUS, I hope it will provide a renewed international democratic dynamic and closer working for more resilient supply chains in both goods and raw materials. I am concerned that Ministers may have been desperate to do any deal, rather than getting the best deal. If there are concerns about meat imports, will the Secretary of State press other Departments, the NHS and schools to prioritise local meat, just as every other country does?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and enthusiasm for this important deal with one of our closest allies and partners. Indeed, the AUKUS relationship is now developing and will be a very long-standing and close relationship, as we have had in many other ways. He raises an important point about local supply chains and the use of local goods, and I will make sure that that is passed on to my relevant colleagues.
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. He highlights the fact that we should be reassured that our farmers have fantastic products that we will all, as UK consumers, want to continue to eat, and that indeed our Australian partners are keen to sell their products into the Asia-Pacific market, where there is a growing demand. We will also want to take up those market opportunities. That is why we are working very hard and very closely with those in the CPTPP to get an accession to that free trade group, because there we will have the opportunity to sell our fantastic produce to those Asia-Pacific markets too.
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Australia is the only country in the developed world on WWF’s list of global deforestation hotspots, and beef production is the No. 1 driver of this. In the great barrier reef catchments, 94% of land clearance is linked to it. It is destroying the habitats of threatened species, including the koala—and I am sure we would all want to preserve the koala’s habitats. Can the Secretary of State assure me that we will not, under this trade agreement, allow the import of more beef that is linked to deforestation? This morning we had a debate in Westminster Hall and the reassurances from the Minister there were pretty weak. Can she confirm that this will be something the Government try to uphold?
In this free trade agreement, the UK and Australia have committed to combat illegal logging and related trades, which, as the hon. Lady pointed out, is critical to the preservation of our natural environment and that critical biodiversity—an area that the UK has led on in the COP26 discussions led by Lord Goldsmith through the nature track in Glasgow. The environment chapter in this free trade agreement recognised the importance of sustainable forestry management, and it strengthens our relationship of co-operation and information sharing on a bilateral basis. We have also agreed provisions on promoting and co-operating on the transition towards a circular economy in reducing waste that goes beyond the CPTPP arrangements that Australia has with its neighbours, alongside working in further areas such as air quality and marine litter. There is a really important starting point for the work that we will do together with Australia to ensure that deforestation becomes a thing of the past.
We have had another fantastic trade deal that epitomises the cornerstone of one of the reasons people voted to leave the European Union, which was to set our own independent trade policy. We have heard a lot about agriculture but not a lot about young people, particularly professional young workers. Will my right hon. Friend explain the benefits of this deal for those young professional workers who will now have easier access to the wonderful lived experience of working down under?
I thank my hon. Friend for his enthusiasm and for highlighting again just how important this deal is. This is the first deal that we have negotiated from scratch as an independent trading nation. It is a broad and deep liberalising trade deal that affords, among other things, the opportunity for young Britons—anyone still under 35; sadly, that is not me—to travel and work in Australia for up to three years. Historically, to be able to get that, they had to have a commitment to work in an agricultural environment, but that will no longer be the case, so our young people will be able to go anywhere in Australia for up to three years to take their talent and get the opportunities afforded to them in any area that they want. That is a really exciting development that will continue to build on the close relationship that we want to maintain.
Fair play to Canberra, because they have no’ half scored a great deal with this one. It must be delicious to have scored such a great trade deal over your former overlords in London. I look forward to the benefits that this will bring to Scottish distilling—gin and whisky—but if exports of lamb and sheep meat from Australia to the United Kingdom are so insignificant to the Australians, why did you not write them out of the deal, because it is what you are getting the most heat on—
I beg your pardon, Madam Deputy Speaker. Why did the Minister not seek to write those exports out of the deal, and will she take a second opportunity to answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Alyn Smith) about what she will do if she finds herself at odds with the devolved Administrations in the devolved nations? Will she simply ram through her agenda with the UK United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020?
I am thrilled that the hon. Gentleman is so pleased for those Scottish food and drink producers, who I absolutely agree will have great opportunities. They are very exciting new market opportunities that those producers will, I have no doubt, take up with gusto.
Again, I reiterate that I am reassured by the safeguards we have brought in. The quota levels are built, but the existing quotas are not being used at all because the markets that Australia chooses to sell into at the moment—because the prices are better—are the Asia-Pacific ones, where there continues to be a growing middle class looking to have good-quality meat as part of their diet. I am looking forward to our ability to accede to the CPTPP, through which our farmers will also have opportunities to access those new markets.
First, I welcome the Secretary of State’s very positive win-win attitude towards trade negotiations, as opposed to that of some others in this House. She mentioned visas, specifically for young people. Could she give the House a little bit more information about the projected numbers of workers likely to be going backwards and forwards, and the sectors they are likely to be involved with?
I will ask the team to write to my hon. Friend about the technical detail, because I do not have those figures to hand. However, really importantly, beyond the question of the opportunities that under-35s on a three-year visa have, being free to choose what they want to do when they go and work in Australia, that shift from a two-year visa to a four-year visa for executives and managers who want to work in any number of sectors—and, indeed, for their families to be able to work in Australia as well—is a huge opportunity for our workforce to go and enjoy Australian opportunities, and also to bring UK expertise to our great friend and ally.
I wish you a happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker. From the enthusiastic way in which the Secretary of State is selling this deal, she has clearly been drinking a lot of the Prime Minister’s Kool-Aid, but no matter how much positive spin she puts on it, it is a bad deal for County Durham beef and sheep farmers, including those in my constituency. Those people are already struggling because of the restrictions that have come about because of Brexit, so I ask her what discussions she has had with her counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about support for those farmers in years to come. In many cases, they are marginal anyway, and if they are opened up to worldwide competition from Australian lamb and beef, that will make their job 10 times harder.
I cannot speak for my colleagues in DEFRA, but I know that progress on the environmental land management schemes framework is developing at pace. That framework will be a really important tool to help our farmers make the right choices, not only about the food production that they choose to do, but about managing the environment that they are stewarding on our behalf as we move forward and—to the question of the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) earlier—make sure that we look after the biodiversity and the nature that surrounds us.
However, I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman that this deal is bad for his farmers, because there are great opportunities coming. As I mentioned earlier, the release of the lamb imports plan for the US is opening up a whole new series of markets, and as we continue to do more trade deals and with the opportunities in Asia-Pacific, our amazing farmers will have opportunities to move into new markets that they have not had before. However, as I will continue to say and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is nothing like eating local. Our farmers continue to advertise and very successfully sell their products to the British markets too, and I know that my colleagues in DEFRA work very closely with farming groups to help ensure that happens.
What a great way to start 2022. I commend not only the Secretary of State and her predecessor, but the Australian high commissioner, the hon. George Brandis, who has been so passionate about the relationship between the two nations, and strongly support all the work that has gone on to make today possible and have this fantastic trade deal become reality. Is it not fantastic that this deal has been achieved? We were told that it would take 10 years to do any trade deal, and this has been done in a matter of just over a year. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is a golden opportunity in this year of the Queen’s platinum jubilee also to extend more trade and more co-operation to the Commonwealth, and other realms and territories? Please let us not forget that trade is not just within the United Kingdom; we have territories and dependencies for which we are also responsible, so can we make that a priority in the coming years?
I concur absolutely with my hon. Friend’s comments that the high commissioner, George Brandis, has been a huge advocate and supporter of the deal and indeed has assisted in some of the logistics challenges of carrying out, using mostly virtual methods, the very complex trade negotiations through different time zones to make sure that we were able to deliver this in an incredibly timely manner. That is reflected in the fact that both countries are very keen to build on their very close and long-standing relationships with what is one of the most liberalising trade deals that exists.
I am passionate about free trade, and so are the farmers in Cumbria and so, I assume, are the farmers in Northumberland. No free trade is really free if it is not fair. When it comes to animal welfare, this deal clearly is not fair. I wonder whether the Secretary of State truly comprehends the astonishing difference in terms of animal welfare standards between farming, and livestock farming in particular, in her own community and in mine compared with Australia. There are staggering and astonishing differences in scale—the fact that we have close husbandry in this country and vast areas and no husbandry in Australia. Moreover, there is the lack of humane standards in abattoirs and also when it comes to the transportation of livestock. Surely this deal undermines our farmers, undermines the standards that we hold dear and throws our agriculture under a bus in order to get a cheap deal. How will she reply to her own farmers who will be as shocked and appalled as I am by much of this deal?
I will direct all our farmers who have concerns to the level of the safeguards that I set out earlier, which should reassure them, and, importantly, to the continuing growth in new markets of the opportunities for them to sell our fantastic UK produce to the rest of the world. The standards are very clear and the animal welfare chapter has set out, in a way that Australia has never committed to in any other trade deal, that non-regression and working together is the way to move forward. We have not looked at anything in the poultry, pigs and eggs sector precisely because we did not believe that we could find a level of compatibility in standards, but we are comfortable with what the animal welfare chapter sets out and that it will help us all move forward. Really importantly, our fantastic producers—in the case of the hon. Gentleman and me they are our sheep farmers who make some of the finest lamb in the world—should be excited at the prospect not only of this free trade deal, but of all the free trade deals and, indeed, the release of the US import ban for them to find new markets.
The trade deal that the Secretary of State has announced is an excellent step to doing more business and increasing exports with Australia. It will be up to UK companies to take advantage of the new arrangements. Does she agree that, to do so, they will need first-class sales skills? Are we doing enough to improve those skills and get better at selling, and what advice, support, guidance and encouragement will there be to companies wishing to sell their products in Australia?
As part of our export strategy, which we launched at the end of last year, we have a number of tools in the toolbox to help those businesses that are either already exporting or that want to discover new markets and learn how to move their products into new markets to do so. I look forward to all colleagues wanting to work with their businesses and our teams to maximise those opportunities.
The Secretary of State started her statement by saying that she had signed a deal and concluded by saying that she had passed it to the Trade and Agriculture Commission for comment. Will she take a third opportunity to try to answer what she will do with the comments from the Trade and Agriculture Commission? Frankly, it is a bit like listening to the commentary on the Ashes series—interesting to listen to, but has no impact on the outcome. We were shafted at cricket and I fear we will be shafted in agriculture.
The Trade and Agriculture Commission is a group of independent experts who will review in detail the agricultural elements of the deal. I look forward to receiving its report, whence I will draw up my section 42 report and bring it to Parliament.
New free trade deals are incredibly important for securing the future prosperity of our country, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend and all involved on securing this one. Agriculture is enormously important in my constituency, and I know that farmers will be reassured by her clear statement that all imports from Australia will have to meet our existing food standards. Although she gave very low numbers of current imports from Australia, can she reassure the House that her Department will do everything humanly possible to bang the drum for British farmers to get more of our world-class produce to Australia?
We want to see our fantastic British produce sold around the world, including to Australians. As I mentioned, our teams working in the UK and around the world are there to help our farmers and those who want to sell British produce into those markets.
Happy new year, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the Committee stage of the Trade Act 2021, I tabled a series of amendments to include environmental chapters in all future trade agreements. The Government rejected all our amendments of that nature on the basis that such chapters would be included on a deal-by-deal basis, but that was not true, was it? The procurement chapter of the agreement specifically excludes the environmental chapter. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) said, the failure to include 1.5°, added to the exclusion of an environmental chapter, means that the Government have completely undermined in this trade agreement any commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
I am very proud that we have the environmental chapter in the free trade agreement, which sets out a mutual commitment to the Paris agreement. As I set out earlier, that was reiterated as meaning keeping 1.5° alive at COP26, where the Australians and we led the charge to ensure that we all work together to try to meet that challenge and maintain our climate.
The new free trade agreement is another step forward in our commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, and I congratulate the Secretary of State. What are the next steps in our application to join the CPTPP and what progress has been made on a new framework for Government-to-Government contracts which, as she knows, is a live issue at the moment for at least one deal in the region?
The CPTPP process is in play. We put in our application last year and we are being vetted. I am not sure how best to describe it—it is a bit like passing a set of exam questions, and we have to submit our answers. We are in the final throes of that phase, which is good, and we hope to be able to move to market discussions in the very near future. In relation to my hon. Friend’s question about the new framework for Government-to-Government contracts, we are looking at those in detail at the moment and I will report back in due course.
I thank the right hon. Lady for the comprehensive positives in her statement, but I wish to reflect the concerns and opinions of the National Farmers Union and the Ulster Farmers Union—I declare an interest as a member of the latter. Will she outline how we can encourage our close friends and allies in Australia to produce meat products using the same high animal welfare standards that we in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are proud to stand for?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continued support of farmers in his constituency. In the animal welfare chapter, we have agreed a non-regression clause and a number of co-operation matters on which we will work with the Australians. We are clear that our standards are non-negotiable and that food coming into the UK must meet our food standards and safety levels, and that will continue.