I support free trade in principle: it keeps down prices for consumers. But I am concerned about the environmental and social effects of the proposed Free Trade Agreement with Australia. In particular, it could harm the high-quality livestock producers we are fortunate to have in Herefordshire.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 19 May that George Brandis, Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, had written to all Conservative MPs suggesting that little beef and lamb would be exported to the UK as a result of the deal because of high transport costs and rising demand in Asia. But he also said that would mean Australian producers would seek to sell high-end produce to the UK, not cheaper goods. So it appears the deal will not benefit poorer consumers but will instead compete with Herefordshire’s premium products.
The NFU’s web-page on the deal welcomes free trade with Australia in general but stresses that beef and lamb are sensitive products and notes that if Australian high-end cuts displace British steak then our beef producers would no longer be viable. The NFU calls for safeguards and monitoring to allow swift action if there is disruption. In Bill Wiggin’s Hereford Times Talking Point on 3 June he welcomed a letter from the NFU President confirming support for the deal but failed to mention the NFU’s concerns.
It is a pity that both the county’s MPs helped to defeat a Lords amendment giving Parliament the right to scrutinise and approve trade agreements in advance.