Responding to the UK Government announcement that an agreement in principle has been reached on a UK/Australia free trade agreement, NFU Cymru President John Davies said:
“The prospect of a free trade agreement between the UK and Australia has been in the offing for some time. NFU Cymru has consistently outlined its concerns about the impact such a deal could have on the Welsh agricultural industry. We note in today’s announcement that the UK Government has stated that there will be a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. The union will need to see the actual details before we can truly understand what value the government’s safeguards hold in protecting Welsh and UK farmers from agri-food products produced in systems, and to standards, that are drastically different to those our UK consumer has grown to trust and expect.
“At this stage it is very difficult to see what tangible benefits this trade agreement is going to deliver for our network of Welsh family farms, while the likely negative impacts of increased imports over time are a lot more apparent. NFU Cymru has made clear its concerns that this trade agreement with Australia could adversely affect our ambitions to sustainably grow the £7.5 billion Welsh food and drink industry – Wales’ biggest employer. Just as importantly, we hold legitimate concerns as to the social and cultural impact this trade deal could have and its effect on Welsh language and culture – things that cannot be measured in GDP but are, nevertheless, integral to the fabric of our communities and heritage.
“There can be no doubt that today’s announcement of a trading agreement, whether phased or not, is a signal of UK Government’s intentions for future trade partnerships and there is a very real risk that a precedent has been set here. I am sure that negotiators for New Zealand, Canada, USA and Mexico will all want to see at least this level of access as they negotiate free trade agreements with the UK Government and the cumulative impact of these increased agri-food imports, even if they are staggered, needs to be carefully weighed up by government.
“UK Government needs to communicate the full details of this agreement in principle and provide thorough impact assessments without delay. It is vital that the statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission is set-up to critically examine the detail of this free trade agreement as it is finalised. UK Parliament and devolved governments must have the opportunity to properly consider its ramifications. It is also crucial that our Welsh MPs scrutinise this deal very carefully and consider what it will mean in real terms for the Welsh family farms and rural communities they represent.
“With potential changes in the marketplace as a result of this agreement and future trade deals, coupled with the ongoing impact of a global pandemic, the direction of travel has changed significantly in a relatively short space of time. Put simply, the world in 2021 is a vastly different place to the one that we knew when Welsh Government first set out its proposals for future farm policy in Wales. As our new Welsh Government takes the Agriculture (Wales) Bill through the Senedd, there is an urgent need to reconsider how future agricultural policy can continue to underpin sustainably produced, climate friendly Welsh food, whilst supporting our rural communities, against the backdrop of the UK Government’s trade policy.”