Norfolk farmers quiz MP about Aussie trade deal
Farmers concerned about the implications of her new Australia free trade deal have had a face to face meeting with international trade secretary and South-West Norfolk MP Liz Truss.
She spent an hour, on Friday, at Downham and Southery NFU chairman Ed Lankfer’s Wereham farm listening to their reservations about a deal which they feel could risk their livelihoods.
As well as the local farmers, the party included NFU regional director Gary Ford, group secretary Patrick Verrell and Norfolk NFU county chairman Jamie Lockhart.
Mr Lankfer admitted that by the time Ms Truss left he felt “a little happier.”
He explained that the industry’s concerns related to beef, lamb and sugar imports and the difference in the ways that Australia and the UK rears livestock and grows crops.
He said that the concern was that products would be coming here from a country where farming and livestock rearing standards are lower than those in the UK.
Australia uses different methods including drugs not permitted in the UK, hormone treatment not permitted here and insecticides not allowed here, all giving them an edge in terms of costs.
He said: “I have no objection to free trade but it must be like for like.We have the highest standard of beef and lamb in the world and we are proud of it but it comes at a cost and we don’t want to be sold short because of this.”
When the trade deal was first announced, the NFU’s national president Minette Batters expressed concern about the impact on the livelihoods of UK farmers who could be undercut in terms of price and standards.
Mr Lankfer said that Friday’s meeting was an opportunity to talk to the trade secretary face to face and ask questions about this important topic.
He said that she was able to give them some reassurance that the market would not be flooded and that Australian beef coming here would replace that lost over a period of time as a result of Brexit.
Her message, he said, was that it would not hit British farmers and would, in fact, open up opportunities.
After the meeting, Ms Truss said: “It was great to chat to farmers in Wereham and one thing I would like to make clear is that any deal that is signed with Australia will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards.
“Tariffs for sensitive goods can be staged over time, with safeguards built in. British beef and lamb are amongst the best in the world and global demand for beef and lamb is soaring, especially in the Asia/Pacific markets. A deal with Australia is a gateway to joining CPTPP, a high-standards free trade agreement of 11 Pacific nations.
“ One of the initiatives the government is promoting is support for agricultural exports via UK Export Finance and we are also placing more trade advisors around the world to assist the growing number of businesses keen to expand their market.”
Referring to another issue, she said:”A concern that has also been raised with me is the struggle by farms to find enough staff and also the shortage of HGV drivers. This is an issue that the Department for Transport, DEFRA and Home Office are actively looking at to see what measures can be taken to ease the problem and is an issue I have raised directly with ministers.’