Penrith and The Border MP, Dr Neil Hudson, today questioned the Trade Minister on the details of the UK’s tariff offer to Australia on agricultural exports as part of a wider UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Dr Hudson, who along with UK farmers, is worried that the proposed FTA may damage our farming sector, asked the Trade Minister during an Urgent Question session in the House of Commons for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and for the Trade and Agriculture Commission to be reconstituted immediately and tariff-rate quotas to be considered.
Dr Hudson asked:
“A Free Trade Agreement between the UK and Australia is something I welcome as it can be of huge benefit to both our countries. We are the closest of friends and share so much in common. However, I share the concerns of farmers in Cumbria and across the UK that the FTA may damage our farming sector. It is important that Parliament is able to scrutinise these FTAs, something which is not happening with this deal. The CRAG process is insufficient and the much-welcomed Trade and Agriculture Commission that we all fought for is now not currently constituted and therefore is not looking at this deal. Will the Government commit to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of this agreement and act to reconstitute the Trade and Agriculture Commission immediately, and also consider tariff rate quotas as a sensible way of safeguarding this agreement.”
Greg Hands, Minister for Trade responded:
“I thank him for that question. He is of course hugely knowledgeable in this sector in relation to agriculture and I respect that. I welcome his own welcome for the deal overall. The deal isn’t done yet, that is the first thing important to recognise. There is no text in front of us to scrutinise. The reconstituted Trade and Agriculture Commission will be set up soon and definitely in good time to scrutinise this deal. When it comes to safeguards, again this will be specified in the Free Trade Agreement, but typically allow either party to temporarily increase tariffs or to suspend liberalisation in the event of an unexpected or unforeseen big substantial increase in imports. That is normal for a Free Trade Agreement that those kind of safeguards will be in place.”
After the Commons session Dr Hudson commented:
“This is a crucial juncture in the trade negotiations and it is essential that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is reconstituted immediately. The Minister did say this will happen soon and I will certainly be watching that space. Parliamentary scrutiny of FTAs must be meaningful, including the ability to amend or block deals, not merely rubber stamp them after the event. The Minister fell short of committing to tariff rate quotas so the devil will be in the detail on that particular point. I will make no apology for standing up for animal welfare and for my farmers and producers in Penrith and The Border and will always speak and vote in what I believe to be their best interests and that of our fantastic UK food producing sector.
This is essentially about effective parliamentary scrutiny which would in turn make our Free Trade Agreements more robust and more beneficial to both countries’ economies. I would reiterate that I am confident an FTA with Australia could be a really positive step in our mission in becoming a beacon for high standards in food production and animal welfare. However, undermining British farmers and our agricultural sector is not how we achieve these aims. I will continue to work with like-minded colleagues from across the House, the EFRA Select Committee and organisations such as the National Farmers’ Union to ensure that the voice of the sector is heard loud and clear.”