Liz Truss outlines planned trade deal with India
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UK Government ministers are just weeks away from closing in on a Free Trade Agreement with the British Commonwealth member. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss considers the first major post-Brexit trade deal a “crunch point” with a desire to finalise the terms at June’s G7 conference in Cornwall.
However, ministers from the devolved Scottish and Welsh governments spoke out against fears it could damage the UK farming industry.
Ms Truss is understood to be under pressure to grant tariff-free access for farmers in Australia and New Zealand in order to secure the new trade deals.
But Scottish and Welsh ministers are concerned that doing so could spark a backlash from the UK farming industry due to the impact of potential zero-tariff imports of lamb and beef.
George Eustice and Michael Gove have also backed the concerns from the devolved nations causing a split in the cabinet, the Financial Times initially reported.
When asked if there were any divisions this afternoon by Express.co.uk, senior sources in the Department for International Trade did not deny there were.
Vaughan Gething MS, Welsh Economy Minister, said: “Farmers and food producers play a crucial role in our society, economy and environment.
“We have been very clear with the UK Government that any new trade deals must not cause an un-level playing field, by giving food importers with lower standards an economic advantage in our market compared to our own producers.”
John Swinney MSP, Deputy First Minister of Scotland, said: “This proposed deal is a huge threat to Scottish agriculture.
“It will devastate the hill farming communities I represent and no self-respecting UK Government could sign this.”
Jim Fairlie, SNP MSP for Perthshire South, said: “Rather than safeguarding our world-class Scottish produce and protecting consumers, the UK government is preparing to sell them out for a post-Brexit trade deal that could inflict untold damage on the industry.
“The Tories must urgently confirm that they will not throw our farmers under the bus by sacrificing world-class Scottish produce in pursuit of post-Brexit trade deals.
“Anything less than that would be simply unforgivable.”
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English, Welsh and Scottish farming chiefs also held crisis talks today over the prospect of British farming struggling to compete if zero-tariff trade on lamb and beef goes ahead.
A meeting of the UK Farming Roundtable, which includes 19 farming bodies took place this afternoon.
All 19 organisations said the UK was a “global leader in sustainable farming” and made clear this “could not be comprised.”
NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said: “We share the concerns expressed regarding the Australia FTA negotiations.
“Scotland’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors are particularly exposed should a deal be rushed through with Australia that fails to strike the right balance.”
National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters, said: “We know that if we’re to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return.
“However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly.
“There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities.”
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But this afternoon, Downing Street said negotiators were discussing the “final elements” of a deal and that they hoped to get an agreement in principle by June.
The PM’s official spokesman said today: “The Government is united in wanting to secure an ambitious free trade deal with Australia that benefits businesses across the UK.
“Any agreement will include protections for the agricultural industry and won’t undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.”
Australian authorities say two-way goods and services trade between Australia and the UK was valued at £17 billion in 2018-19, but UK officials say the 2021 deal is worth significantly more at approximately £20billion.
Under the deal, products such as Scottish Whisky can be exported to Australia tariff-free in a boost to UK producers whilst cheaper meat and wine products could be exported by Australia to the UK.
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