Trade deal with Australia will hit our farmers

Tim Farron has warned that farmers are being “sold down the river” by the Conservatives, after it emerged the government’s own impact assessment found the Australia deal will cause a £94m hit to the farming, forestry and fishing industries. There is also an expected £225 million hit to the semi-processed food sector, such as tinned foods.

The Liberal Democrats are demanding that MPs are given a vote on the Australia deal so they can stand up for the interests of British farmers. It comes following the party’s by-election win in North Shropshire during which concerns over the impacts of government’s trade deals on local farmers were a significant issue. The deal is likely to hit small farmers, especially hill farmers hardest.

Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Environment and Rural Affairs. He commented:

This impact assessment proves what so many feared. Buried in the small print is a £100 million hit to our farming and fishing sectors that will hit rural communities hardest.

Boris Johnson has sold farmers down the river to make a quick buck in a misguided trade deal with Australia.

Now the reality of what’s on the table is clear, it’s vital that Parliament is given a vote on the deal.

Last week’s political earthquake in North Shropshire shows that Boris Johnson’s Conservatives can’t afford to take farmers for granted any longer.

North Shropshire MP Helen Morgan said:

The Conservatives have negotiated a shoddy deal that could see our markets being flooded by cheaper, lower quality imports.

Ministers now need to come clean about the impact of this deal on local farmers and what support will be made available.

Last week’s result showed that the Conservatives can’t afford to take farmers for granted. I will use my position as the new MP to stand up for our farming communities and defend our rural way of life.

On first reading, a £98 million hit on the farming, fishing and forestry from the trade deal with Australia seems like small change. Trade with Australia was worth £13.9 billion in 2020, having increased throughout out membership of the EU. What I find difficult about this deal is that is mostly a manufacturing deal at the expense of the rural economy. Politicians and Whitehall mandarins have too often found it easy to treat the rural economy as a footnote to policy and that is the case with this deal.

Rural areas of England contributed an estimated £261 billion to England’s total economy in terms of gross value added (GVA), 15.9% of England’s total economic activity. The rural economy is very diverse and the three F’s  – farming, forestry and fishing – account for 3% of the GVA and that amounts to a £3.6 billion contribution to England’s economy. The proportionate contribution of the three F’s will be much bigger in the most rural areas, including North Shropshire where trade deals were a significant issue that contributed to last week’s victory by Helen Morgan.

The larger farmers will adjust to the trade deal, albeit grumpily, by increasing the industrialisation of their operations. In rural Shropshire that is likely to mean more acres of poultry and pig units to cover income lost from sheep and cattle farming. It is the small farmers that will be hit hardest. The family businesses that not only produce for our tables but also maintain the character of the countryside – and that is vital to our visitor economy.

Unless our meat eating habits change, the trade deal will shift some production to Australia which has lower welfare and environmental standards. It will be another example of the UK exporting its carbon emissions and, some would argue, its moral obligations for the welfare of animals reared for meat.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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20 Comments

  • nigel hunter 22nd Dec '21 - 11:42am

    During the war we could not supply all our food needs and it took all available land to feed us.Our population was too large for self sufficiency.By cutting down on our food production going for ‘cheap’ imports, we loose out,contract.In the event of ANY serious disruption we will loose out. Going for cheap food the country looses out.Yes whilst secure food supplies flow we should hold on to our own industry.Money,cheapness should not be the only way of looking at things

  • I am sure that in Helen Morgan the people of North Shropshire will have a great advocate to represent their justified grievances in Parliament.

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Dec '21 - 1:09pm

    How exactly importing food (and other stuff) from the otherside of the world as opposed to accroas the English Channel will help us get to net zero has yet to be explained

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Dec ’21 – 1:09pm…………..How exactly importing food (and other stuff) from the otherside of the world as opposed to accroas the English Channel will help us get to net zero has yet to be explained…………

    Not just that…Australia has a woeful record on climate action and their ‘beef sector’ is a major source of deforestation..Increasing their overseas market will further worsen the situation..

  • John Marriott 22nd Dec '21 - 3:38pm

    Crazy idea, with Aussie produce undercutting our farmers. How many of them voted for Brexit?

  • Barry Lofty 22nd Dec '21 - 5:03pm

    How many farmers voted for brexit, a very high percentage I would suspect!!

  • Lot of farmers voted for Brexit because they were lied to by Vote Leave and told they’d be better off outside the CAP. Which hasn’t been exactly easy. Nor have BPS payments been smooth over the years.
    Now they are realising they’ve been sold down the river for cheap headlines about ‘Brexit is working’ deals with other countries.
    If we want to win back seats in rural areas, we don’t need anyone pointing out ‘you voted for this mess’. Sympathy, not schadenfreude.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Dec '21 - 5:39pm

    The argument is that we can’t compete with Australian agriculture so we can’t have a trade deal with them. However it is the same with France, Spain and many other countries in the EU. French apples are cheaper. So are Italian tomatoes, Danish bacon etc etc. Many fruit trees in England don’t get picked because we can’t even be bothered to do that. I’ve often seen perfectly good crops of apples, pears, damsons etc just going to waste for want of someone to pick them from the trees. Not just since Brexit either!

    So we do need to find a way of looking after our farmers without putting up trade barriers. We should pay farmers to farm in an ecologically sustainable way providing they sell some produce into the marketplace even if it is not particularly profitable at current market prices. It shouldn’t be beyond our wit to devise a fair scheme to suit everyone. The alternative is to put up trade barriers to everyone, which will force up the price of all food. So we’ll end up paying to support our farmers in one way or another. The choice is higher food prices or higher taxation to support farmers.

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Dec '21 - 7:45pm

    Farmers voted about 2:1 in favour of Brexit. Crudey put, if you went to Agricultural College you voted out, and if you went to university you voted in. The NFU sat on the fence for fear of upsetting its members but wanted remain.

  • Tristan Ward 22nd Dec '21 - 7:48pm

    @ Peter Martin

    There are enormous opportunities for land mangers in selling carbon credits – what the EU calls ” carbon farming. Combined with thatnothwe EU policy of a carbon tariff at the UK border farmers there are real possibilities here. Also selling selling biodiversity and other reduction of pollutants.

  • @Tristan Ward
    >“There are enormous opportunities for land mangers in selling carbon credits – what the EU calls ” carbon farming”
    Yet another form of green wash…
    Yes opportunities for “land managers” aka speculators, but very little real benefit to significant long-term reduction in atmospheric carbon, or to food production…

  • James Fowler 22nd Dec '21 - 10:50pm

    Goodness gracious, is this the Party of Free Trade, (former) supporters of the Corn Laws and cheap food speaking? Evidently one by-election in rural Shropshire is enough to become agricultural protectionists and supporters of domestic Tory farmers and landowners at the expense of the urban masses.

    One of the very few benefits of Brexit was departure from the atrocious CAP. As wider inflation kicks in let’s at least take advantage of importing from the cheapest where we can.

  • Tristan Ward 23rd Dec '21 - 7:28am

    @ Roland

    I think you are wrong about this. Very significant reductions in CO2 output can be made by changing land management practices. For example, reduction in deep level ploughing and using “min till” instead increases CO2 retention in soil. It’s not for nothing the National Famers Union is aiming for net zero UK agriculture by 2040.

    Also check out the collars that reduced methane from cow burps by 50% Yes really!

    Why as a Capitalist party, should we ignore the market as an efficient tool that will achieve carbon dioxide reduction? If we could internalise the costs of pollution we’d be well on the way to getting to net zero in my opinion.

    I ha e this idea that if everyone who emited a tonne of CO2 paid someone to remove that same ton, we’d be far more lovely to get to net zero than merely relying on reduction efforts without the power of the market.

    Afterall the market (along with science and liberal democracy), has made humans longer lived, healthier and wealthier. It is a powerful solution as well as a problem.

  • Peter Martin:
    Are you calling for a modern day reintroduction of the 19th century Corn Laws?

  • Food is of course important. In fact the availability of food decides the lives we are able to lead. There is very clear evidence that poor diet is a major contributor to ill health. I’ll health is expensive as we keep hearing every day. So we need to ensure that good quality food is available to everyone. This means we need to start we considering how we can produce enough food with drenching our planet with chemicals that will poison us.
    We also need to look for ways of growing food on land that is not used, especially in towns. In the war there was a Dig for Victory campaign to encourage growing vegetables in gardens and so on.
    While we are at it we need to re-examine our financial systems to enable a more sane use of resources.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Dec '21 - 1:29pm

    @ Andy Hyde,

    The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and corn (wheat and all grain crops) enforced in the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1846. These were opposed by Liberals who supported the principle of free trade.

    The 20th and 21st century equivalent of corn laws would be the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and supported by Lib Dems who jettisoned their previous support for Free Trade.

    So, I’m arguing that the 19th century Liberals were correct but that modern day Lib Dems aren’t. Having said that, if we aren’t going to support our farmers by imposing trade barriers we have to find some other way to do that.

  • Lot of stereotypes in your post, James. Not least the ‘land-owning’ thing*. And no thought for the rural communities that without farming, would have no income at all. Or what would become of our countryside if farmers went out of business. Or the real cost of ‘cheap food’, in terms of things like animal welfare, air miles, etc
    *According to Defra the average Farm Business Income across England in 2019/20 was £46,000.
    That’s income, not profit. And per business, not per person. (And only includes commercial holdings, ie above a certain size).

  • Tristan Ward 23rd Dec '21 - 2:51pm

    Here is the EU’s latest comment on “carbon farming”. we would do well to follow the lead (no we can’t be part of it as a matter of course)

  • Tristan Ward 23rd Dec '21 - 2:57pm

    @ James Fowler

    Yes I worry about losing the benefits for free trade too. Leaving aside the benefits or otherwise of growth hormones in beef and chlorinated chicken, the biggest problem seems to be in reconciling free trade with the (all other things being equal) additional carbon costs of long distance importing and exporting.

    The answer could be internalising the costs of carbon pollution, by ensuring that the cost of removing (say) a ton of CO) from the air are paid by the consumers or producers of that ton of CO2 (or equivilant). For imports, there could be a CO2 tarrif equal to the same.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Dec '21 - 8:10pm

    @ Tristan,

    “For imports, there could be a CO2 tariff equal to the same.”

    Tariffs never really work as intended. If we apply tariffs to a country’s exports it reduces their ability to import. The net result is that international trade is reduced which may well have an effect on CO2 emissions but if that’s the plan it needs to be explained. We could equally well reduce international trade by putting a tariff on our own exports!

    This is not a new insight on my part. It was first explained by Lerner in the 1930s.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lerner_symmetry_theorem

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