Boris Johnson has insisted British farmers will benefit from the UK’s free trade deal with Australia, the first to be negotiated from scratch since Brexit.
The Prime Minister said it was “good news” for services and manufacturers in the UK, with British products such as cars, Scotch whisky and confectionary set to be cheaper to sell to Australia because of the tariff-free agreement.
Mr Johnson and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, announced the agreement on Tuesday despite concerns from British farmers that they could be undercut by cut-price imports.
Industry leaders have also spoken out over possible compromises on food standards, as the UK has a ban on producing and importing hormone-treated beef, which is permitted in Australia.
Following the concerns from the farming sector, Downing Street said there will be a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, with other “safeguards” expected to be brought in to protect British farmers.
Mr Johnson said the trade agreement will adhere to the “strongest possible” animal welfare standards, while Mr Morrison insisted that Australian standards were “very high”.
But the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has called for more information on provisions for animal welfare following the announcement, as it also urged assurances on whether the safeguards for famers are sufficient.
Elsewhere in the agreement, Downing Street said Britons under the age of 35 will be able to travel and work in Australia more freely – suggesting the farm work requirement on working holiday visas could be scrapped.
However, further details of the free trade deal have so far been sparse, with the announcement by Downing Street lacking specifics on when the agreement comes into force and what other sectors are set to benefit.
The two leaders were said to have agreed the pact over dinner in Downing Street on Monday evening, with a final agreement in principle set to be published in the coming days.
Speaking at Downing Street following the announcement, the Prime Minister told reporters: “Now, thanks to this deal, we hope there will be even more trade between the UK and Australia.
“The idea is that we will be able to do even more because we are taking tariffs off, so for Northern Ireland, Northern Irish machine tools, this will be good news.
“It will be good news for British car manufacturers, it will be good news for British services, for British financial services and it will be good news for the agricultural sector on both sides.
“Here, we had to negotiate very hard and I want everybody to understand that this is a sensitive sector for both sides and we’ve got a deal that runs over 15 years and contains the strongest possible provisions for animal welfare.
“But I think it is a good deal and I think it’s one that will benefit British farmers and British consumers as well. It will also make it easier for British people, for young people to go and work in Australia.”
Mr Morrison added: “Our economies are stronger by these agreements, this is the most comprehensive and ambitious agreement that Australia has concluded.
“The only one that comes into close connection with that is the relationship we have with New Zealand.
“Movement of people, movement of goods, movement of services, this is what underpins the strength of advanced economies and liberal democracies.”
The agreement with Australia is also set to boost the UK’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Mr Morrison said he hoped that the UK would make the CPTPP “even stronger than it is now” and that the trade deal led to a “pathway for entry” from the perspective of Australia.
NFU president Minette Batters said in a statement: “We will need to know more about any provisions on animal welfare and the environment to ensure our high standards of production are not undermined by the terms of this deal.
“The ultimate test of this trade deal will be whether it contributes to moving farming across the world onto a more sustainable footing, or whether it instead undermines UK farming and merely exports the environmental and animal welfare impact of the food we eat.”
In the lead-up to the deal being agreed, a split in the Cabinet appeared between International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Environment Secretary George Eustice, who has concerns about the impact on farmers.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove also harbours fears that the agreement could fuel demands for Scottish and Welsh independence.
In a statement stressing the benefits of the deal to all four nations of the UK, Number 10 said the new deal will help distillers by removing tariffs of up to 5% on Scotch whisky.
It said more than 450 businesses in Wales exported to Australia last year and that “life science companies and chemicals manufacturers are set to benefit in particular”.
For Northern Ireland, Downing Street said that 90% of all exports to Australia are machinery and manufacturing goods, with tariffs set to be removed and customs procedures simplified.
Elsewhere, car manufacturers in the Midlands and North of England will see tariffs of up to 5% cut, the statement added.
The free trade deal is also set to eliminate tariffs on Australian goods like Jacob’s Creek and Hardys wines, swimwear, and confectionery, which will save British households up to £34 million a year, according to Downing Street.
Total trade between the UK and Australia was worth £13.9 billion in 2020, while the UK was Australia’s fifth largest trading partner the previous year.