A cabinet reshuffle this week may signal a post-Brexit increase in Australian meat imports to the UK, as advocated for by Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Minister of State Lord Frost. However farming communities in Scotland and Wales stand to be affected most by such a decision, a leading academic has said.
Birmingham City University political economist Professor Alex de Ruyter commented on the UK’s ongoing free trade agreement (FTA) discussions with Australia, raising questions about the removal or lowering of tariffs around, and quality of, food imported from Australia.
“Politically it is clear that there is a huge cabinet split between different Brexiteer groups. On one side, Michael Gove and George Eustice both favour limiting imports of Australian meat whilst on the other Liz Truss and Lord Frost favour more complete trade liberalisation. Now that Mr Johnson has come down on the side of an FTA with Australia it looks like Truss and Frost have won the arguments over their Cabinet opponents.
“Truss in particular wants an outline agreement ready in time for the G7 meeting next month. Many would argue that this aggressive timeline puts unnecessary pressure on the UK to compromise. However, there is no real need to move so quickly. Details (especially over standards) are important. The gains from liberalised trade with Australia are likely to be very small overall.
“Many would favour lower food prices for consumers. However, there are a few complicating factors. Australian food standards are different to British ones. Practices that are unacceptable here are quite widespread e.g. the use of growth hormones in cattle. There are environmental questions over the sustainability of present levels of meat consumption (especially red meat) in general and of Australian agriculture in particular.
“The farming communities that would be affected are overwhelmingly concentrated in Scotland and Wales. Liberalisation (even if both countries would gain in aggregate) would provide another stick with which Mr Johnson’s Nationalist opponents could beat an “out of touch Westminster”.
“If (and it remains a large if) any trade deal allowed food with different sanitary and phytosanitary standards from our current ones to enter the UK then that could dramatically complicate longer-term efforts to reduce frictions in the border in the Irish Sea.
“The impending cabinet reshuffle will give a further indication as to Johnson’s medium-term plans in this regard amid rumours that Eustice might be moved.”