UK cattle and sheep ranchers this week envisioned ‘outright betrayal’ by the UK government, as Boris Johnson’s cabinet met to discuss a zero-tariff trade deal with Australia.
Alarmed farm leaders from across the UK’s four countries held an emergency press conference to highlight the very real possibility that the Johnson administration, desperate to sign post-Brexit trade deals around the world, is ready to ‘ turn around completely ” on its pledge to protect domestic farm businesses from a flood of cheap overseas food.
Although by no means a concluded agreement, the principle of a barrier-free trade agreement with Australia and a side agreement with New Zealand is considered to be the subject of discussion. serious, the negotiations being at an advanced stage. As such, the presidents of the four agricultural unions did not hold back on apocalyptic language.
“We fully support trade liberalization,” stressed ENFU Chairman Minette Batters, “but we have been assured that UK agriculture will not be compromised in the process.
“We can never be competitive at the scale of Australian beef units or New Zealand sheep farms. It would be an absolute betrayal on the part of this government if it signed a trade agreement removing all barriers to cheap food imports from these countries. .
“This week is crucial!” Ms. Batters pointed out. “A Cabinet deal would be extremely important and would mark a complete turnaround in the UK government’s trade policy, the effects of which would be felt not only by the current generation of farmers, but generations to come.”
NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy fully agreed, supported Ulsters Farmers Union President Vic Chestnutt and NFU Cymru President John Davies, saying that in terms of standards and scale , unhindered imports of antipodes meat would completely undermine the UK market.
“We’ve just gone through two serious consultations on the welfare of animals in transit – but on the other side of the political coin, we seem happy to be doing business with a country that just doesn’t have the same respect. for animal welfare, ”Kennedy said. .
“Right now we have consumers on our side. Covid has shown them the importance of food safety, and many of them are happy to support local produce, and they don’t mind the price if they get it. the right assurances of provenance. and animal welfare and environmental impact, “he said.” Under these circumstances, why would you want to transport food halfway around the world? If we want net zero carbon, we need to produce it here, rather than just exporting our food’s carbon footprint elsewhere. Everything goes in the same atmosphere. ”
Ms Batters recalled the many assurances Mr Johnson gave to farmers that post-Brexit trade would not undermine their position, and issued a stark warning that any betrayal of those promises would be very bad for ranchers in decentralized countries in particular.
“If you want to keep the UK united you are going down this path at your absolute peril,” she said. “The destruction of these fundamental industries could seriously undermine the nature of the union.”