Tiny trade deals and at what cost?
Free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand were trumpeted by the Conservative Government and the then PM Boris Johnson as victories for post-Brexit Britain. These trade deals came into force a couple of days ago with our current PM Rishi Sunak saying that: ‘These landmark deals squarely deliver on my priorities to drive economic growth, boost innovation and increase highly skilled jobs across the UK‘.
Yet each deal is worth a tiny percentage of our GDP. The Government’s own predictions suggest that the deal with Australia is only worth 0.08% (or £2.3bn by 2035) and the deal with New Zealand 0.03% (or £0.8bn by 2035). This is equivalent to saving about £1 per UK household a year.
A deal that’s a tiny ANZsnack and one which, like vegemite, you may either love or hate. From the way the Conservatives are polling in rural areas, most farmers hate the deal.
Even Conservative politicians have some serious doubts. One former Tory Environment Minister, George Eustice, admitted that it was ‘not actually a very good deal‘ for Britain and told the Commons in 2020 that the government has ‘given away far too much for far too little‘.
The National Farmer’s Union has strongly criticised the deal because: ‘for sensitive sectors like beef and lamb, dairy and horticulture, in time, there will be no limit to the number of goods Australia and New Zealand can export to the UK’.
NFU President Minette Batters said:
‘Confirmation that the UK’s new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand FTAs will come into force at the end of May brings into sharp focus the need for our government to monitor the ongoing and cumulative impacts for our farmers and growers of the inevitable tougher trading environment they will face’.
‘It’s clear that UK farmers have very little to gain from these two deals.’
BoJo sells out our farmers over dinner
In the Spring of 2021, over a dinner in Westminster of Australian red and Welsh lamb, Boris Johnson ‘conceded the whole kingdom‘, signing over greater access to Britain’s beef markets than had ever been conceived by his senior officials.
Even Liz Truss, our mayfly ex-PM whose chaotic tenure crashed the country, was allegedly ‘livid‘ about the deal. Truss was warned in 2020 that the deals with Australia and New Zealand would shrink the UK’s farming sector.
Minette Batters, the President of the NFU, has described this as ‘a real breach of trust and confidence for farmers‘, adding ‘the anger is still visceral‘.
Winning in rural areas.
Against this chaotic background is it any surprise that Labour is set to win in rural constituencies like Hexham? The Conservatives have taken the rural vote for granted. Labour is listening and will act to Build a Better Britain, in town and country.
Speaking to the NFU earlier this year, the leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer MP, observed:
‘It’s been obvious for a long time that the Tories have given up on farmers”.
Keir went on to promise:
‘Labour’s approach to trade will be very different – I can promise you that. We want to remove barriers to exporters, not put them up. We want to protect high British standards, not water them down.’
‘We are going to talk to our friends in the European Union, and we are going to seek a better trading relationship for British farming.’
Has anything got better for farmers and rural communities over the last thirteen years of Tory rule?