Tim Farron on the “historic betrayal” of British farmers by Australia trade deal

Tim Farron slates the proposed trade deal with Australia in an article in The House:

So often we see Conservative MPs and ministers take to social media to tell us how much they love British farming and how they think it’s the best in the world.

But their plans for a free trade deal with Australia show that when push comes to shove they seem to have no problem whatsoever with throwing British farmers under a bus.

As a liberal I am firm believer in free trade – but only as long as it’s fair trade.

Australian animal welfare standards are lower than the UK’s which makes for lower production costs and cheaper produce. Therefore, the only way that small British family farms could compete would be to lower their own standards – which nobody except the government wants them to do.

A trade deal on these terms would be a historic betrayal of British farming and will set a dangerous precedent. If Australian farmers are given the green light to undercut British farmers then surely it’s inevitable that the government will allow Canadian, New Zealand and American farmers to do the same.

And not only is the Government betraying farmers, but going against the public’s wishes too:

A survey from the consumer watchdog Which? found that 94% of people think it’s important to maintain existing food standards, while 81% were uncomfortable eating beef reared using growth hormones – a practice which is widespread in Australian farming.

So why is the Government doing this?

The answer appears to be desperation. The government’s mantra is “getting things done” and so they need to be seen to be securing trade deals quickly – especially as it was sold as one of the big benefits of leaving the EU.

But the problem with this approach is that the countries you are negotiating with can smell your desperation a mile off, which means that they know that they can get away with giving us a really bad deal. That’s exactly what is happening here.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • David Evans 27th May '21 - 2:15pm

    The Conservatives did exactly the same with Cornish Fishermen. Which begs the question “Why did they do so well in Cornwall in May while we got smashed?”

  • “Why did they do so well in Cornwall in May while we got smashed?”

    For a start most people in Cornwall aren’t fishermen. I have quite a lot of relatives in Truro, Redruth and Camborne. None of them are involved in any way, shape or form with fishing. I don’t think any of them even know anyone connected with fishing. And we’re talking about people who have lived there all their lives.

    Out of interest, I have heard that some conservative historians believe that the repeal of the Corn Laws was a terrible mistake, pandering to progressive industrialist interests rather than supporting those working on the land. I was unaware that this was now a Lib Dem policy position too.

  • Tim writes “As a liberal I am firm believer in free trade – but only as long as it’s fair trade.”
    This is the Conundrum. The UK has had and retains a long association with Australia and New Zealand . NZ in particular was badly impacted by the loss of UK export markets following entry to the EU in the 1970s. Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world and more generally in countries we trade with across the world.
    Domestic production will always have the advantage of lower transportation costs and less environmental impact than imports. As a party, we will need to reconsider policy outside of the common agricultural policy in ensuring sustainable food supplies at affordable prices.
    The consumption of meat, fish and dairy products needs to be substantially reduced as part of the effort to tackle the climate emergency. This needs to be embedded in the thinking on agricultural policy.

  • Steve Trevethan 27th May '21 - 4:27pm

    What is « free trade » in functioning detail?
    In which ways and to what extents does it use « freedoms to » ?
    Ditto « freedoms from »?

  • Nonconformistradical 27th May '21 - 5:33pm

    @Steve Trevethan
    “What is « free trade » in functioning detail?”
    Good question.

    I always thought there had to be fair competition between businesses operating in the same market but it doesn’t seem like that given the extent to which some businesses seem to dominate their markets (Amazon..) – and seem to be able to arrange their tax affairs to suit themselves instead of paying a fair amount of tax wherever they trade.

  • john oundle 27th May '21 - 6:08pm

    Why should small farmers (that have been subsidized for decades by taxpayers) take priority over cheaper food for poor people?

  • Nigel Jones 27th May '21 - 6:17pm

    @David Evans; is this a populist government that will do what gets it the votes it needs in the short term balancing issues against each other, not caring about a small number of people ? Or maybe I am giving it too much credit for thinking things through at all, rather than simply looking for the main small actions that can be blown up to support its key nationalist messages. It is getting such a huge grip on the media that it can do this and easily get away with it. Challenge like that of Tim Farron cuts no ice with the general population, who ignore what is said in Parliament; that is why i have said recently that opposition parties need to be out and about proclaiming their messages and spend far less time trying to do it in Parliament or erudite journals. That is what Farage and Boris did and Boris still does.

  • David Evans 27th May '21 - 7:03pm

    John (Oundle), “Why should small farmers (that have been subsidized for decades by taxpayers) take priority over cheaper food for poor people?”

    It rather depends on how much value you put on the environmental stewardship role they undertake (I rate it highly), whether you consider that more expensive food is something that is fully factored into the value of benefits received (something I consider that the Conservatives don’t care about) and whether you consider that the rural poor (who are often small farmers, self employed and so not entitled to the minimum wage, nor many benefits) deserve equal treatment to the urban poor (Something most Labour supporters and sadly a number of liberals do not appreciate) which they do not get (e.g. transport costs).

    One thing is certain, it is not as easy a question to answer as some people think.

  • Yeovil Yokel 27th May '21 - 7:22pm

    john oundle – (1) I’m a small farmer and I have never received a penny of grant money or subsidy from any person or organisation; in fact, I fund all the nature conservation works on my land myself. (2) Poor people don’t need cheaper (= less wholesome and unsustainably-produced) food, they need more money.

  • nvelope2003 27th May '21 - 7:48pm

    Free trade which was introduced by the repeal of the Corn Laws which protected farming interests was wanted by the industrialists because it meant they could pay lower wages.The result was poverty for the rural poor and the devastation of British agriculture but this was acceptable as we had a Royal Navy three times bigger than the rest of the world’s navies combined and that enabled us to ensure that the country did not run out of food in times of scarcity. If we do not produce enough food to provide a bare minimum in times of scarcity then a nation could be faced with starvation. Just as we have armed forces costing billions to deter foreign enemies we must have protection for food production as we are no longer the most powerful nation in the world and since leaving the EU we are entirely at the mercy of the USA and China.

  • Yeovil Yokel

    You have also never received any funding / subsidy via the CAP?

    Australian food is less wholesome?
    Where’s the scientific proof, less wholesome compared with what food exactly?

    A country the size of Australia with vast grazing areas & yet their food is unsubstainably produced?

  • Andrew Toye 28th May '21 - 1:35am

    It seems that ‘cognitive dissonance’ is in play here. Very high proportions would back higher ethical standards in theory, but many choose differently when actually deciding what to buy for themselves with their own money. It’s a different one to resolve without strong interventionist measures. More referendums anyone?

  • John Marriott 28th May '21 - 8:08am

    It has often been claimed that the average British consumer spends less as a proportion of their income on food than those in many European countries. This is largely why the major supermarkets are able to screw our farmers down in terms of price. If even cheaper food is on the horizon even with transportation costs from the Southern Hemisphere, they are surely not going to refuse to sell it nor will many customers refuse to buy it, whatever extra ‘ingredients’ it might contain. “All the more money to spend on the important things in life, such as 50” plus flatscreen TVs and holidays in the sun!”, some might argue. Others clearly have little choice.

    I can buy all the George Monbiot style arguments about sustainability and custodianship etc. I can acknowledge that many of us stuff too much junk food down our throats with a detrimental impact on our long term health. However, as a liberal I would not wish to dictate to anyone what they eat or drink. It’s their choice, after all, as long as they accept the potential consequences and do not try to blame someone else if they get into a mess. However, given food poverty, even this mea culpa may be unfair for many people and their families. As I wrote earlier, many clearly do have little choice, especially if they are having to rely on Food Banks. There is our dilemma and a dilemma that I share. I know it’s bad for me; but I really can’t resist the occasional Double Whopper with Cheese or a nice bag of chip shop chips with salt, vinegar and a dollop of ketchup (or, being a European, some mayonnaise)!

    We all know that the British Government is desperate to prove it can strike ‘trade deals’ around the world to fill the gap created by Brexit, even if their difference to our GDP is marginal. They are in a bit of a bind, clearly. How appropriate therefore to have a Trade Minister, whose surname is Truss! Despite surveys showing a massive majority for maintaining food standards, I am not convinced that, if push came to shove, these standards could not be weakened, especially if we continue to be ruled by ‘the bottom line’ and a desperation on the part of the government to be proved right.

  • Nonconformistradical 28th May '21 - 8:30am

    @john oundle
    “Australian food is less wholesome?”
    No idea about its nutritional value but as I understand it they do use growth-promoting hormones and antibiotics for cattle.

    Use of antibiotics in livestock farming is understood to be a factor in development of antibiotic resistance in humans – do you think this is a good idea?

    “A country the size of Australia with vast grazing areas & yet their food is unsubstainably produced?”
    What has Australia’s size got to do with it? Yes it’s a very big island but much of it away from coastal areas receives very little rainfall – and Australia is prone to – sometimes lengthy – episodes of drought.

    What would you propose should be done with the large areas of land currently used in UK for livestock grazing and not much use for growing crops beyond grass?

    And what about security of supply? Shouldn’t we be producing a larger proportion of the food we need rather than importing over long distances?

    Because if you accept that it would be a very long time before people gave up meat entirely then there will be a continuing need for meat supplies. If much of our meat were to be produced in and hence transported from far-away countries wouldn’t there be a potentially serious problem if transport of such supplies (not exactly environment-friendly) suffered significant disruption or future climate change reduced meat production in countries supplying us?

  • I understand John Marriott’s ‘liberal’ position on food – but it’s not just a matter of ‘it’s nobody else’s business. The cost of bad diet is enormous for society at large (with the emphasis on large).

    The costs of obesity to the NHS : It is estimated that the NHS spent £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related ill-health in 2014 to 2015. … The UK-wide NHS costs attributable to overweight and obesity are projected to reach £9.7 billion by 2050, with wider costs to society estimated to reach £49.9 billion per year.31 Mar 2017.

    I’m afraid I’m enough of a social engineer to say that this matters. Kids do need protection….. they don ‘t get to choose……… and multinational corporations that make billions put of junk food need to be accountable…….. which with the Johnson Government tied into their donor chums is unlikely.

  • Combining some of the above comments:
    If repeal of the corn laws meant 19th century industrialists could reduce the pay of their workers, due to cheaper food costs, then does it follow cheaper food prices arising from the proposed mess of an Australian trade deal means the government can the reduce the minimum wage and benefits?
    I do have to wonder!
    In agreement with David Evans here.

  • Barry Lofty 28th May '21 - 9:57am

    Lets face it this government are a bunch of self serving hypocrites and do not care about anyone other than staying in power themselves, sacrificing common sense and reality as they try to dig themselves out the mess called Brexit.

  • @ Andy Hyde “If repeal of the corn laws meant 19th century industrialists could reduce the pay of their workers”…………

    Which they did. Andy could have added, as could any historian of the Liberal Party, that these said industrialists were for the most part the movers and shakers in the grass root organisations of the Liberal Party……

    Probably the most famous example came at Manningham Mills,in Bradford, owned by Samuel Lister. It was one of the largest factories of its kind in the world and employed 5,000 workers, the majority women. On 9 December 1890 Lister posted a notice outlining reductions in pay for weavers, pickers, spoolers and winders, hitting 1,100 workers in total. Lister threatened a lock-out if workers did not accept.

    The long term outcome ? Much misery, (though not for Lister, the future Lord Masham) but also eventually the founding of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Bradford.

  • Peter Watson 28th May '21 - 10:39am

    Political opponents looking at this article and the discussion below would find it easy to depict the Lib Dems as a party that opposes free trade (and favours high food prices) when it is courting farmers’ votes while espousing the opposite when it is chasing metropolitan votes.

  • Peter Watson: Just like all the other political party’s then!!!

  • Helen Dudden 28th May '21 - 12:10pm

    Tim, I do feel the animal husbandry, is questionable with some Australian meat products.
    I will buy from the local Farmers Markets, and this could be extended further with more local production.
    A decent living wage might be one answer, as with fuel poverty and the present furloughs system and job losses.
    I feel this is a knee jerk reaction from Brexit.
    Not a keen supporter of this governments actions.

  • nvelope2003 28th May '21 - 4:45pm

    Free trade is the ideal but it only works if you have the means to enforce it such as membership of the EU. When Britain was no longer able to do this it had to abandon Free Trade because it could not compete with other countries who had lower rates of pay or standards. Food production cannot be turned on and off like the production of many other necessities. Potatoes need time to grow although maybe it will one day be possible to produce food artificially to an acceptable standard.

  • John Marriott 28th May '21 - 6:09pm

    All this talk about food quality and the merits of so called free trade. As I wrote earlier, you are all missing the point. The consumer is king (or more likely Queen). If people will buy it, it will be sold. OK, it’s not right; but that’s the way it is, unfortunately. Choice, choice and more choice – for some at least.

  • John Marriott 28th May '21 - 6:16pm

    And.. here’s the challenge. Stick a Union Jack on ANY home produced product and see who the patriots are!

  • “The consumer is king”….. if only that were true…….

    The consumer ? More likely the sucker who gets ripped off by clever marketing multinationals.

  • john oundle 28th May '21 - 7:05pm


    ‘Use of antibiotics in livestock farming is understood to be a factor in development of antibiotic resistance in humans – do you think this is a good idea?’

    26% of total UK antibiotic consumption is used on food producing animals.

  • John Marriott 28th May '21 - 7:52pm

    @David Raw
    I was trying to be sarcastic, or is it ironic?
    @john oundle
    I’m afraid that many people just don’t seem to care what they eat. As David says, that’s what the multinationals are counting on!

  • How about sironic, John ?

  • Too much attention on a fairly irrelevant sector I feel. The farmers knew when they voted as a bloc for brexit that they would be free of EU bureaucracy (as they saw it) and could trade equally with the world. Now they want protection from the obvious consequences of their actions (ie that Nz, Australia and Canada would seek to unload huge quantities of food here). And the answer seems to be … to artificially keep prices high!? This will sell well on the doorsteps … ‘we know you voted for brexit to have free trade, but now that we’ve got it we’re going to artificially increase prices for foreign producers in case you choose to buy their stuff instead of the more expensive stuff from our farmers’ !! The answer maybe is in labelling, meat produced with hormones etc should be labelled, and by all means stick Union flags wherever you like, I’ll be buying from EU producers wherever I can because I know they have high standards. If people don’t care about that they can buy U.K. or NZ or whatever:

    It would help if policy makers stopped assuming that it is a privilege worth paying for for other nations to trade with us. We have cocked the proverbial snook at the best abs most regulated market available and now are left looking at the rest. We get what we deserve, but I can see no basis (other than vote grubbing) in protecting whole communities from the obvious consequences of their own actions.

  • Food production a fairly irrelevant sector ? What about famine or starvation ? One thing I have learned is to ignore fashionable talk. Only a few scientists thought we would have a dose of pandemic but now we have one. It used to be called the plague. However hard you try to avoid reality it keeps coming back to remind you it has not gone away. Funny old world as Mrs Thatcher said on being deposed.

  • John Marriott 28th May ’21 – 6:16pm:
    John Marriott 28th May ’21 – 6:16pm
    And.. here’s the challenge. Stick a Union Jack on ANY home produced product and see who the patriots are!

    In the days when I went out shopping (pre-pandemic) I usually selected food bearing the Red Tractor symbol where possible.

    Red Tractor Assurance:

    The Red Tractor logo is only found on British food and drink products that have been certified to rigorous standards from farms to pack. Our logo means that the food you buy has been responsibly sourced, safely produced and comes from crops and animals that have been well cared for — so it’s good for you and good for British farmers.

  • Steve Trevethan 29th May '21 - 1:18pm

    Does « free trade » mean trade without regulations?
    Can « free trade » ever be fair trade?

  • Nonconformistradical 29th May '21 - 5:16pm

    @Steve Trevethan
    “Does « free trade » mean trade without regulations?”
    Well so-called free trade as it seems to be operating at present just seems a means for reducing effective competition, stifling small business and exploiting less well-off people. Thanks but no thanks.

    “Can « free trade » ever be fair trade?”
    Not without effective regulation I would have thought.

  • Steve Trevethan 29th May ’21 – 1:18pm:
    Does « free trade » mean trade without regulations?

    Free trade is where trade is conducted between different countries (or customs areas) without any tariffs, quotas, or discriminatory rules and regulations (‘non-tariff barriers’). Providing regulations, such as the ban on using growth hormones, are applied equally to all then it can still be free trade.

    Can « free trade » ever be fair trade?

    Free trade may be fair trade or not, depending on many factors. For example, UK (and EU) farmers are heavily subsidised, whereas Australian (and New Zealand) farmers are unsubsidised.

    The case for free trade is essentially internationalist. It takes as its starting point the assumption that, if you want to sell me something and I want to buy it, the authorities need a good reason to come between us and hamper our transaction. The fact that you live in another country does not, in itself, qualify as a good reason.

    You might think that Euro-integrationists, who like to flaunt their contempt for nationalism, would buy that logic. And plenty of them do. But for some, the issue is now tribal rather than political. Because global trade has Brexity connotations, they have manoeuvred themselves into the extraordinary position of wanting unhindered commerce with the EU but not with anyone else.

    ‘Europhiles are now in the position of opposing trade deals with everyone except Europe’:

  • Joe Bourke 27th May ’21 – 3:34pm:
    As a party, we will need to reconsider policy outside of the common agricultural policy in ensuring sustainable food supplies at affordable prices.

    Too late for the Agriculture Act 2020:

    David Evans 27th May ’21 – 7:03pm:
    It rather depends on how much value you put on the environmental stewardship role they undertake (I rate it highly), whether you consider that more expensive food is something that is fully factored into the value of benefits received…

    Rather than putting a stealth tax on our food, is it not better to make such payments transparent? This is what the new ‘Public Money for Public Goods’ approach does…

    ‘The Agriculture Bill and Public Money for Public Goods – What does it mean?’ [August 2020]:

    Introduced to replace the Common Agricultural Policy as part of the UK’s departure from the EU, this Bill, when it passes into Law, will introduce a fundamentally new approach to the way in which farmers are supported.

    Fundamental change to financial support for farmers

    The new approach involves phasing out the Basic Payment Scheme and replacing it with one based on the concept of ‘Public Money for Public Goods’. That means, potentially farmers would be encouraged to manage their land to achieve a wider range of benefits and could receive financial support for doing so.

    The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is the system that will be used to bring to life the new policy and apply Public Money for Public Goods. It will replace the Basic Payment Scheme, the Countryside Stewardship and several other schemes. This is the subject of the local DEFRA pilots currently underway.

    In addition to promoting food production, ELMS concentrates on six main areas to support the 25 Year Environmental Plan. These are:

    clean air and plentiful water
    clean air
    protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards, such as flooding & drought
    mitigation & adaptation to climate change
    thriving plants & wildlife
    beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment

    ‘Environmental Land Management scheme: overview’:

  • Nonconformistradical 28th May ’21 – 8:30am:
    …as I understand it they do use growth-promoting hormones and antibiotics for cattle.

    Hormone treated beef is off the menu…

    Miss Truss said: ‘I’m absolutely clear we’re not going to be lowering our food import standards.’ Asked whether that meant the import of hormone-treated beef would not be allowed, she told Times Radio: ‘Correct. It’s banned at the moment in terms of our import standards.’

    Do Australian farmers use more antibiotics than UK or EU farmers? It seems unlikely given that they are a “world leader” in minimising their use and a much higher proportion of their beef is organic.

    ‘How does Australia’s use of antimicrobials compare to other countries?’:

    Australia has one of the most conservative approaches in the world to the use of antimicrobials in food producing animals.
    Australia is a world leader in minimising the use of antibiotics in food producing animals.
    In a 2015 United Kingdom review, Australia was ranked the fifth-lowest for antibiotic use in agriculture among the 29 countries examined.

    ‘Massive overuse of farm antibiotics continues in Europe’ [October 2016]:

    New data published on Friday 14 October by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reveals that many European countries are failing to put an end to massive overuse of antibiotics in farming [1]. Use of antibiotics in Europe remains more than twice as high in animals as in humans [2].

    The O’Neill Review on antimicrobial resistance, commissioned by the UK government, recommended that high-income countries should aim for a short-term target of 50 mg of antibiotic per kg of livestock [3]. However, the EMA shows that the average European level of use is over three times higher at 152 mg/kg.

    The EMA data shows that over 91% of European farm antibiotics are used for mass medication in feed or drinking water. A large proportion of this is for routine disease prevention in intensively farmed pigs and poultry.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th May '21 - 12:20pm

    “In the final analysis, the goal of business is to realise a higher profit, while the goal of government is to protect its people. Neither unrestricted free trade nor total protectionism will accomplish both. A mixture of the two — has evolved as the best solution”. (ThoughtCo)
    “As a liberal I am a firm believer in fair trade-but only as long as it’s fair trade.” (Tim Farron)
    Might it be more accurate for L.D.s to advocate and work for “Fair Trade” rather than the less accurately labelled “Free Trade”?

  • Denis Mollison 31st May '21 - 11:25pm

    On free trade, I thoroughly recommend “Thing 7” in Ha-Joon Chang’s “23 Things they don’t tell you about capitalism”. I found the whole chapter eye-opening; to quote just one sentence: “With only a few exceptions, all of today’s rich countries, including Britain and the US – the supposed homes of free trade and free market – have become rich through the combinations of protectionism, subsidies and other policies that today they advise developing countries not to adopt.”

    [The other 22 “Things” are equally worth reading, and all in a £9.99 Penguin.]

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