Boris Johnson’s much-vaunted trade deal with Australia will bring down the price of an imported bottle of wine by just “a few pence”, according to a critical report by MPs, who urged the Prime Minister not to exaggerate the benefits of such deals.
The International Trade Committee said on Wednesday that while tariff cuts on processed food and drink could benefit consumers, they are unlikely to make a “tangible difference” at supermarket checkouts.
Meanwhile, the deal would allow duty-free food to be sold from Australia to the UK without meeting core UK food production standards on, for example, the use of pesticides.
Johnson hailed the deal with Canberra in June 2021 as Britain’s first major post-Brexit trade deal, with greater freedoms for Britons to work and travel in Australia and various tariff cuts on a range of goods.
However, the Trade Committee called for a comprehensive assessment of trade deal winners and losers across all UK economic sectors and nations, highlighting UK farmers’ concerns about a lack of protection in some deals.
The elimination of almost all tariffs on agricultural imports is a significant change that could set an “important precedent” for doing business with other leading food-exporting nations, the report said. “While the Government has sought to mitigate the negative impact on the UK farming sector with transitional arrangements, the Committee notes farmers’ concerns that these safeguards are not adequate,” he added.
British agri-food producers have complained that the agreement improves access for food produced in a way that would be illegal in the UK – for example by using pesticides banned by the London government.
The committee said it was disappointed that the government had ignored recommendations from its nutritionist Henry Dimbleby and the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission that agri-food liberalization should be conditional on other countries meeting core UK food production standards.
Questions were raised about farmers being exposed to unfair competition from abroad in by-elections in Tiverton, Honiton and North Shropshire, where the Conservatives lost to the Liberal Democrats.
MPs also pointed out that the Government had failed to secure protection for UK food and drink brands such as Melton Mowbray pork pies, Welsh lamb and Scotch whiskey.
“As a result, impersonating these products remains legal in Australia. Given such large concessions to Australian agricultural imports, MPs argue that such protection should have been an easy win for British exports,” the report said.
The government’s impact assessment shows a GDP increase of just 0.08 percent as a result of the deal. In contrast, the GDP drop from exiting the EU was estimated at 4 percent by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility.
Angus MacNeil, an MP for the Scottish National Party and chair of the Trade Committee, urged the Government to be “on an equal footing with the public” that the deal would not have the transformative impact ministers would like to claim.
“We also found several examples where the government’s flat-footed negotiations have resulted in significant concessions being made to Australians without securing all possible benefits in return,” MacNeil said.
“It is important that the government learns from this experience and negotiates harder next time to maximize profits and minimize losses for all economic sectors and parts of the UK,” he added.
Sarah Williams, of the Greener UK coalition of environmental organisations, said the report “shows the inadequacy of the Government’s current approach to trade”, adding: “Britain is rushing towards deals with huge environmental and public health implications but without a clear strategy or.” reasonable arrangements for control.”
The Department for International Trade said the trade deal with Australia would “unlock an additional £10.4 billion in bilateral trade” and “support economic growth across the UK”.
“We have always said we will not compromise the UK’s high environmental, animal welfare or food safety standards,” it said, adding that the committee did not understand that Australia did not have a food geographical indication system. “Should they introduce such a system, we have agreed to review our agreement.”