Boris Johnson’s much-lauded trade deal with Australia will only cut the price of an imported bottle of wine by ‘a few cents’, according to a critical report from MPs, who urged the PM not to overestimate the benefits such agreements. .
The International Trade Select Committee said on Wednesday that while tariff cuts on processed food and drink could benefit consumers, they were unlikely to make a “significant difference” at supermarket checkouts.
Meanwhile, the deal would allow duty-free Australian food to be sold in Britain without meeting basic standards of UK food production related, for example, to the use of pesticides.
Johnson hailed the deal with Canberra in June 2021 as the UK’s first major post-Brexit trade deal, with greater freedom for Britons to work and travel in Australia and various reduced tariffs on a range of products.
But the trade committee has called for a comprehensive assessment of winners and losers across all economic sectors and nations of the UK trade deals, highlighting UK farmers’ concerns over the lack of protections in some deals.
The lifting of almost all tariffs on agricultural imports was a significant change that could set an “important precedent” for agreements with other major food-exporting countries, according to the report. “While the government has sought to cushion the negative impacts on the UK agricultural sector with phased agreements, the committee notes farmers’ concerns that these protections are not adequate,” he added.
UK food producers have complained that the deal increases access to food produced illegally in the UK, for example by using pesticides banned by the London government.
The committee said it was disappointed the government had ignored recommendations from its food adviser, Henry Dimbleby, and the Independent Trade and Agriculture Commission that agribusiness liberalization should be made conditional on compliance basic British food production standards by other countries.
The issue of farmers exposed to unfair competition from abroad was raised 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 ensure the protection of UK food and drink brands such as Melton Mowbray pork pies, Welsh lamb and Scotch whisky.
“As a result, it remains legal in Australia to impersonate these products. With such significant concessions given to Australian agricultural imports, MPs argue that protecting UK exports should have been an easy win,” the report said. .
The government’s own impact assessment shows an increase in gross domestic product of just 0.08% as a result of the deal. On the other hand, the impact on GDP of leaving the EU has been estimated at 4% by the official Office for Budgetary Responsibility.
Angus MacNeil, Scottish National Party MP and chairman of the Commerce Committee, urged the government to ‘get down to the public eye’ that the deal would not have the transformative effects ministers would like to claim.
“We also found numerous examples where off-the-cuff government negotiations led to significant concessions being given to Australians without securing all possible benefits in return,” MacNeil said.
“It is vital that the government learns from this experience and negotiates harder next time around to maximize gains and minimize losses for all economic sectors and parts of the UK,” he added.
Sarah Williams, from environmental charity coalition Greener UK, said the report ‘shows the inadequacy of the government’s current approach to trade’, adding: ‘The UK is rushing into deals to enormous consequences for the environment and public health, but without a clear strategy or adequate provisions for control.
The Department for International Trade said the Australia trade deal would ‘unlock £10.4bn of additional two-way trade’ and ‘support economic growth across all parts of the UK’.
‘We have always said we will not compromise the UK’s high standards for the environment, animal welfare or food safety,’ he said, adding that the committee failed to understand that Australia did not have a geographical indication system for food. “If they introduce such a program, we have agreed to review our agreement.”