UK Farming Roundtable | Statement on the UK's Free Trade Agreement Negotiations
20th May 2021
In light of recent updates from the government with respect to trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, and given the particular sensitivities relating to agriculture within those negotiations, the UK Farming Roundtable met on Monday 17th May to discuss the latest developments and outlook for UK trade and agriculture.
Members of the Roundtable reiterated their support for the UK government’s stated objective to secure broad liberalisation of tariffs through their current free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, on a mutually beneficial basis, while taking into account UK product sensitivities, in particular for UK agriculture.
The Roundtable also welcomed the commitment in the government’s recent Animal Welfare Action Plan to make use of the most suitable tools available in safeguarding our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in all its trade negotiations and endorses the commitment that UK farmers should not be undercut by unfair competition.
However, the Roundtable also noted that counterparties to the current FTA negotiations continue to push for unrestricted market access through the complete elimination of tariffs across all agricultural sectors in the UK. Additionally, the suggestion that negotiators are now in a “sprint” to finalise the details of a UK/Australia FTA gives rise to concerns that the UK will come under pressure to make serious and potentially damaging concessions in order to meet the expedited timetable.
Therefore, the Roundtable has confirmed its support for the UK government’s stated negotiating objectives for future FTAs. In particular, we urge the government to continue to stand up for UK farmers in all of its negotiations by:
- Upholding our high standards of production and positioning the UK as a global leader in sustainable farming and in tackling climate change
- Recognising the specific sensitivities of some UK farming sectors, such as beef and sheep, in the current negotiations
- Balancing improved access and lower tariffs for agricultural imports with quotas and other safeguards to avoid irreversible damage to UK farming
- Ensuring any trade deal is genuinely reciprocal and that the benefits properly reflect how valuable UK market access is for foreign exporters
- Acknowledging that these deals will establish precedents that will be reflected in all our trade deals
The UK government must recognise the specific sensitives of some UK farming sectors in these negotiations, specifically beef and lamb.
The UK government is negotiating trade deals with major agricultural exporters (e.g. Australia, New Zealand and the USA). The cumulative impact of the preferential access granted in each of these FTAs has the potential to have enormous impact on farmgate prices in the UK across all sectors. Tariff liberalisation in each should therefore be calibrated in view of the accumulated liberalisation across all our FTAs.
The government has been clear that it is committed to upholding our high environmental, labour, food safety and animal welfare standards in its trade deals.Our government should not be rewarding other countries with access to our markets who do not share the same environmental and climate ambitions. This means ensuring not only that imports meet our own high standards of production, but also that trade policy and domestic policy work in tandem to underpin those standards. We should be careful that increased imports and downward pressure on farmgate prices do not lead to farmers either falling by the wayside or attempting to go toe-to-toe with overseas producers who gain a competitive advantage through production methods that are not acceptable to the UK public or are even illegal in the UK - for instance through employing feedlot systems or largescale, long-distance exports of live animals.
UK farm businesses are ready to work with government in improving their productivity and their competitiveness, to compete against farmers across the world as we liberalise trade and take advantage of the export opportunities these deals provide. However, differences in approaches to farming and costs of production will inevitably put downward pressure on farmgate prices where our FTAs liberalise access to the UK market, even where imports are competing with other overseas producers.
The following organisations constitute the UK Farming Roundtable:
- British Egg Industry Council
- British Poultry Council
- Commercial Farmers Group
- Country Land & Business Association
- Livestock Auctioneers Association
- National Beef Association
- National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs
- National Pig Association
- National Sheep Association
- NFU Cymru
- NFU Scotland
- Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers
- Scottish Land and Estates
- Soil Association
- Sustainable Food Trust
- Tenant Farmers Association
- Ulster Farmers’ Union