Food and drink sector condemns ‘rushed’ trade negotiations with Australia


ood and drink organisations in Scotland have expressed concern that trade deal negotiations with Australia are being rushed, with the UK Government accused of avoiding scrutiny and consultation.

An open letter to UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has been signed by 14 businesses and trade bodies warning about how the talks are being conducted.

Ms Truss has insisted British farmers have nothing to fear and an “awful lot to gain” from a free trade deal with Australia, while suggesting a 5% whisky tariff may be scrapped in the first agreement drawn up from scratch since the UK left the EU.

But critics of the proposed agreement fear the zero tariffs, zero quotas deal that the government in Canberra is demanding would see British farmers and businesses undercut by Australian rivals.

The importance of the UK-Australian deal goes beyond the relative value to both nations; it could set the framework for all future trade deals

The 14 leading organisations in Scotland’s food and drink sector behind the open letter have also now expressed concern about the negotiations, suggesting it could set a bad precedent for future deals.

The letter, with signatories including the chief executives of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, the Scottish Seafood Association and Scotland Food & Drink, said: “We recognise the UK Government’s desire to move quickly to create new opportunities with nations beyond the EU.

“However we are concerned that the pace of these negotiations, particularly the free trade agreement with Australia, is too quick and denying the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny and consultation.

“Trade deals are complex and markets are sensitive; the impact of the Brexit deal has demonstrated this.

“The risks here are enormous for the whole food and drink supply chain and, in the absence of any formal impact assessment to suggest the contrary, we remain hugely concerned at the impact on sensitive sectors of our industry.”

It added: “We welcome an ambitious trade policy if it will open new opportunities for our producers.

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