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UK Government’s ‘ideological’ trade deals will hit Scottish farmers badly, MPs warned

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THE CONSERVATIVES’ ‘ideological’ trade negotiations will cripple the Scottish farming community, farming chiefs and politicians have claimed.

SNP MP Deidre Brock, speaking in the Commons this morning, was also highly critical of the new trade deal announced between the UK and New Zealand last night.

The deal will see tariffs on some goods, such as manuka honey and kiwi fruits, lifted on import to the UK, with exported goods such as buses also seeing a removal of levies to New Zealand.

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However, much like with the Australian trade deal, opposition politicians say that lamb imports from New Zealand will force farmers to cut corners on climate and welfare standards in order to try and maintain a competitive price for home-grown meat.

Industry bosses also warn the deal will provide gradual unfettered access to the UK market, and will gradually push out domestic farmers and produce.

The National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), issued a statement about the deal, enraged at the impact it will have on its members.

NFUS President Martin Kennedy said the deal had been agreed without proper parliamentary scrutiny, adding: “Our fears that the process adopted by the UK Government in agreeing the Australia deal would set a dangerous precedent going forward have just been realised.

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“Having now put in place a similar deal to grant unfettered access to New Zealand, another major food exporting nation, the cumulative impact of all such deals on farmers and crofters will be substantial.”

He said the deal “offers virtually nothing to Scottish farmers” but could undermine “lamb, dairy and horticultural sectors”, and raised concerns about the cap on tariff-free imports, similar ot that introduced for Australia.

The UK government has insisted this cap, which will last 15 years, will protect UK farmers, however the NFUS said it is “merely a slow journey to allow New Zealand, a major exporter of food and drink, unfettered access to food and drink UK markets.”

Mr Kennedy warned that the UK Governments plans were “increasingly imposing rules on us that make the industry less competitive”.

He said: “We are ambitious to identify and grasp opportunities to build our industry and wider economy and our reputation for world class produce.  Trade deals could be an enabler of this, but it is going to require investment and collaboration between UK Government and the industry; collaboration which does not exist at present.

“The reality is that as the Government drives a new open trading environment, it is increasingly imposing rules on us that make the industry less competitive.  The current failure to meaningfully address the critical shortage of labour across the whole food supply chain is a good case in point.”   

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Ms Brock, the SNP’s Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman, asked new trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan about the deal today.

She said: “Because of poorly negotiated, ideology-driven free trade deals, farmers will have no choice if their business is to survive but to resort to more intensive, less climate-friendly, farming to compete with cheaper imports from places like Australia.”

She also asked Ms Trevelyan about the NFUS statement, and whether the UK Government would simply acknowledge their concerns.

The MP for Edinburgh North and Leith added: “The government keeps saying that high food and environmental standards in the UK will continue for UK-produced goods, apparently failing to recognise, if I’m being generous, that farmers will be forced to reduce those standards when they’re competing against tariff-free goods produced to lower standards from countries like Australia, New Zealand and now, as these trade deals have set a precedent, all the other countries to follow.

“The National Farmers Union of Scotland says that very clearly. Would she at least acknowledge their concerns, and recognise that is a possibility even?”

Ms Trevelyan did not answer the question directly, instead saying that the UK had some of the “finest produce with is exported with great success across the world”.

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She added: “We will be working hand in glove with all Our farming producers to make sure that  they have the support and indeed the drive to help their businesses be 21st century successful farm businesses which will be able to take up the opportunities that all free trade deals to come, the opportunity to take those great products into markets across the world.”

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