31 May 2023

UK has safeguards to stop flood of Australian and New Zealand produce – minister

31 May 2023

A trade minister has insisted that there are safeguards in place for British farmers as the UK marks the first day that new trading rules with Australia and New Zealand come into place.

Under the deals’ terms, from Wednesday tariffs on all UK goods exports to Australia and New Zealand will be removed, access to these markets for services unlocked and red tape slashed for digital trade and work visas.

While the introduction of the post-Brexit agreements was lauded as a “historic moment” by Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, there have been complaints about the terms the UK signed up to with Canberra and Wellington.

Former environment secretary George Eustice, who comes from a Cornish farming family, has previously taken aim at the Australian pact, arguing it “gave away far too much for far too little in return”.

It literally is in the details of the deal so that we've got bilateral safeguards in place

But international trade minister Nigel Huddleston looked to assure farmers that the UK Government has “got their backs” when it comes to protecting domestic food producers.

He said there were “safeguards” within the terms of the deals to allow ministers to prevent the UK market being “flooded” with Australian and New Zealand produce.

Should those mechanisms, including stalling the timetable for tariff liberalisation, fail to arrest the problem, the UK could decide to exit the free trade agreements altogether, Mr Huddleston said – although he stressed that he did not think such drastic action would be necessary.

Speaking to the PA news agency, the minister said: “There were some concerns from certain parts of the sector about what if all of a sudden there was a massive surge and they were flooded with imports, so we put protections in place.

“It literally is in the details of the deal so that we’ve got bilateral safeguards in place, a number of protections.

“Also tariff reductions come in over time. That was deliberately done to provide additional reassurance, to the farming sector in particular, that we’ve got their backs and we’re looking after them, literally to the point that if there’s a massive surge, we can call a pause in the deal and say, ‘Right, hold off for a couple of years until we’re able to restabilise’.”

Mr Huddleston said that if any sector felt the trade deals were “threatening the viability” of their industry, then ministers could apply a “bilateral safeguard clause”.

He added: “That can last a couple of years so that we can see what’s going wrong and of course, if necessary, have discussions again with the trading partner.

“This is the thing to remember: these things are not fixed in stone forever and ever. They are trading agreements.

“Even George Eustice, in his statement in the Commons for example, said, ‘Look, let’s recognise these things are not fixed in stone, there’s an exit clause’.

“But we’re very confident that it’ll be beneficial to the tune of billions of pounds to the UK economy.”

Mr Huddleston was speaking during a tour of DHL’s Southern Distribution Centre near Heathrow to see off two handpicked consignments of UK goods, which included a signed copy of the Beano by the comic’s editor John Anderson.

Other British goods included in the parcels being sent to Australian and New Zealand trade ministers were Penderyn single malt Welsh whisky, Brighton Gin, The Cambridge Satchel Co. bags and Fever-Tree mixers.

The packages also included an England cricket top signed by James Anderson and Emma Lamb, a Wales rugby shirt signed by the men’s team and a tennis racket from Gray’s of Cambridge.

The agreements are the first non-European Union trade deals negotiated after Brexit to enter into force and come after the UK, Australia and New Zealand completed their domestic ratification processes.

Along with lifting goods red tape, the deals are expected to expand opportunities for young Brits due to the expansion of the shared Youth Mobility and Working Holiday Maker visa schemes.

On July 1 2023, the age limit for UK applicants going to Australia will increase from 30 to 35 years old.

A year later, the rules will be relaxed further, meaning that from July 1 2024, Brits will be able to stay in Australia for up to three years – an increase on the current two-year limit – without having to meet specified work requirements.

The same will apply for Australians and New Zealanders who want to live and work in the UK under the temporary visa schemes.

Mr Huddleston said the changes would make it more “flexible” for Brits to choose what sector they work in when in the southern hemisphere, meaning those wanting to find employment in Australia and New Zealand “don’t have to go and work on a farm”.

The trading terms will lead to the countries recognising each other’s professional qualifications, making it “easier” for young professionals to make internal transfers within their company for a three-year stay in either Australia or New Zealand, he added.

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