Is the UK-Australia deal still a sure thing? Dispute over access for red meats could scupper talks

Thu 10 Jun 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

The UK-Australia trade deal, which had been expected to be signed early next week, could be in jeopardy after the Australian government suggested it could walk away from the talks over a lack of market access for its agricultural sector.

According to the Guardian, Australian trade minister Dan Tehan is in daily talks with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, to outline a deal by early next week.

However, following criticism from the UK’s agricultural industry about the potential impact of the deal on British farmers, there have been suggestions that market access could be restricted again for Australian red meat exporters.

Farm lobby

As noted in the IOE&IT Daily Update, British farmers have claimed they will be pushed out of business by cheaper meat imported from Australia under a tariff-free deal.

The media backlash created a row in the cabinet between agriculture minister George Eustice and Liz Truss, with Boris Johnson eventually backing the international trade secretary.

Under the proposed deal, goods such as Scotch whisky could be exported down under tariff-free with cheaper Australian meat and wine flowing the other way.

15-year wait

However, Tehan made clear that Australia’s agricultural industry needs to have sufficient access to the UK market, reports the Express.

“I’m confident that we will get there but, in the end, if the ultimate agreement isn’t in our national interest, then obviously we won’t be signing up to it,” Tehan said.

The BBC has reported that that the UK has proposed a 15-year transition period over which tariffs on meat would be phased out.

Pacific threat

A deal with Australia would have only a minor impact on the UK economy, but is also seen as a key step along the road in the UK’s bid to join the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) – the 11-nation bloc which commands around 13% of world GDP.

The UK was given the green light to begin negotiations to join the pact earlier this month and Liz Truss is expected to lay her plans before parliament in the coming weeks.