Statement from Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border and member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee:
“The prospect of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and Australia is one that 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. That said, I very much share the concerns of farmers in Cumbria and across the UK that the implications of the FTA may be potentially damaging to our farming sector. In the UK, we produce top quality food with high animal welfare standards and it is important that these standards are upheld in trade deals. This is something as a veterinary surgeon I am passionate about and on which as an MP I have been prepared to vote against the Government on several occasions.
It is important that Parliament is able to adequately scrutinise these FTAs, something which is not happening with this Australian FTA which looks to be close to being signed, to coincide with the G7 in June, to which Australia has been invited. We were promised that Parliament would be able to scrutinise these FTAs and this should be for all members and for the relevant specialist Select Committees such as EFRA and International Trade. This scrutiny should be meaningful, including the ability to amend or even block FTAs rather than merely delay them. In addition, the much-welcomed Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) that we all fought for as MPs with the NFU is now not currently constituted and its Chair has moved on. It has produced its report but the new Statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission has not been set up yet and therefore is not in a position to scrutinise this Australian FTA. It therefore needs to be urgently constituted. I urge the Government not to rush to sign this deal and urge them to allow Parliament and the new TAC to meaningfully scrutinise this deal.
This is not about protectionism, this is about our values and standing up for our high animal welfare and food production standards. I continue to call for animal welfare chapters to be inserted into FTAs so that certain unacceptable products can be excluded from deals. This is not about hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed poultry, as quite rightly these unacceptable products are already banned in the UK and we have been reassured by Government that they will remain banned and never allowed in as imports.
There are concerns that cheaper-to-produce agricultural goods may come into our market, compromising our farming sector in the UK and I very much share these concerns. The Australian authorities have said they will not ‘flood the market’ with beef and lamb and I respect that, but a way to control the flow of these products would be to apply tariff-rate quotas. If these products are coming in at too high volumes then the flow can be slowed by applying higher tariffs. If the products are not ‘flooding’ in, then the tariffs can be lowered accordingly.
I firmly believe we can secure a good and progressive FTA with Australia but we must not rush it and we must do it right. We owe it to animals worldwide and to our farmers who do so much to provide food for us and who maintain and sustain our environment for all of us to enjoy.”