A committee of Westminster MPs has said that the UK Government should put a system of core food standards in place before signing up to any more free trade deals.

In a report published on 14 June, members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee looked at the implications of the deal done with Australia, on UK food and farming.

That trade agreement was signed in December 2021, and laid before Parliament on 15 June 2022, ahead of being ratified in the coming weeks.

The deal will remove taxes on a range of Australian agri-food produce, including beef, dairy and sheepmeat over a 15 year period.

While the government estimate that the agreement will increase UK gross domestic product by £2.3bn (0.08%) by 2035, agri-food is among the sectors losing out, with gross value added hit by £278m.

In their conclusions, the MPs note that the Australia deal does include a chapter on animal welfare, but maintain that UK negotiators should have pushed further for improved animal welfare standards.

They also want future food imports to meet British standards in relation to production and the environment. “Core standards should be in place before any further Free Trade Agreements that cover the food sector, are agreed,” notes the committee report.

Other concerns

On the wider impact of the Australian deal, the MPs did hear from various farm lobby organisations concerned about additional competition, with Australian producers able to undercut domestic prices.

As well as different production standards which add costs in the UK, the average farm size in Australia is 10,700 acres (compared to 100 acres in NI).

However, there is a commitment from the UK Government to regularly monitor the impact of the deal on domestic producers, and a general recognition within the food industry that Australia is not a short term threat, given its focus on China and other East Asian countries.

Also pointed out was that if Australian imports do come, they are more likely to displace Irish beef and New Zealand lamb, not UK production.

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