UK trade bodies and business groups rushed to warn of the impact of agreeing trade deals without any outside input and demanded more detail, after the UK government announced its agreement in principle with Australia on Tuesday morning.
The government had heralded it as a post-Brexit win, and the biggest trade deal agreed from scratch since the UK's exit from the European Union.
It also outlined benefits of the deal such as "slashing red tape" and cutting costs for British consumers, as well as a boost for the services industry.
However in a letter that garnered cross-party support, campaign group Best for Britain warned that offering a tariff-free, zero quota access to the UK agricultural market risks undercutting British farmers, adding that "the importing of products derived from conditions, agricultural practices and hormone treatments banned in the UK is not acceptable."
The letter to parliament from the group called for the ability scrutinise the finalised text of the agreement before it is signed and ratified, warning that “the deal must command the support of all four nations of the UK.”
It also demanded that detailed impact assessments are carried out looking at how the deal will affect regions and nations of the UK and sectors such as farming.
“The public and MPs from every nation in the UK are united on this issue. They all agree that we must not allow our food standards to be lowered or farming communities to be sold out in a trade deal with Australia," said Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale, who signed the letter and sits on the UK Trade and Business Commission.
"Parliament must be given the time to properly scrutinise this deal if and when it is reached. We need to hold the government to account and ensure the promises that have been made to the electorate are kept.”
On the face of it, the deal appears to cut tariffs on imports of Australian wine, exports of whiskey and relaxes rules around working visas for young people. It also pledged to support quotas on tariff-free agricultural imports into the UK from Australia for 15 years as part of the agreement. The text of the agreement in principle will be published in the "coming days".
Other groups also voiced their concern about the finer details of the deal.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) also pointed out that trade with Australia represents only around 1.2% of the UK’s total, so whilst a deal will have welcome benefits it will "not offset the ongoing issues with trade to the European Union."
The UK was Australia’s fifth largest trading partner in 2019 and the estimated impact of the deal on Australia's GDP is somewhere between 0.01% and 0.06%.
“Businesses remained concerned about the lack of opportunities to properly scrutinise trade deals including this one," said William Bain, head of trade policy at the BCC.
"There needs to be more in-depth industry consultation, particularly in sectors considered sensitive, to better analyse UK’s offensive and defensive strategic interests and the impact on other agreements."
In addition to this, the chair of the International Trade Committee, promised that the group would "hold the government to account" on promises made on farming.
"No one wants an agricultural industry left stuck in the mud," said International Trade Committee chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil.
“In its rush to reach an initial agreement, I fear the government could sign up to something which brings significant harms as well as benefits. The views of the entire farming sector especially are no secret now, including those in the devolved nations, who are particularly concerned about being undercut by cheaper meat and dairy produce from ‘down under’."
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