The UK’s farmers’ unions have renewed calls for all international trade deals to be scrutinised by a Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC).
The demand for Westminster to deliver on its pledge to create a statutory TAC comes as trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand reach an advanced stage.
Following a meeting of the UK Farming Roundtable, comprised of 19 farming bodies across the UK, NFU Scotland (NFUS) president, Martin Kennedy said Scotland’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors would be particularly exposed if a deal with Australia is rushed through without striking “the right balance”.
He added: “Rushing through a trade deal without the promised statutory TAC in place prior to the deal being concluded also sets a damaging precedent for other trade deals.
“The public has shown unprecedented levels of support for the exceptionally high standards met by the nation’s farmers and it is inherent on the Government to meet its commitment of having a statutory body in place to independently assess and comment on proposed trade deals.”
NFU president Minette Batters acknowledged that if UK farmers are to be able to access new overseas opportunities, greater access to UK markets will have to be offered in return, but she insisted concessions should not be given away lightly.
“There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities,” she said.
“The British government faces a choice. It must recognise that opening up zero tariff trade on all imports of products such as beef and lamb means British farming, working to its current high standards, will struggle to compete.”
Meanwhile Environment Secretary George Eustice has refused to be drawn on reports of a row with cabinet colleague Liz Truss over the proposed deal with Australia.
The Financial Times reported Mr Eustice, along with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, were concerned about the potential impact of tariff-free access for Australian farmers on the British agricultural sector.
International Trade Secretary Ms Truss and Brexit minister Lord Frost were reported to be on the other side of the argument within Government.
“I’m not going to get into discussions that are going on in Government about individual trade agreements,” Mr Eustice said.
“In any discussion on any part of Government policy, and trade agreements are no exception, there’s a discussion and there’s a consensus.
“At the moment there’s a very clear consensus in Government that we want to do a trade agreement with countries like Australia, but obviously on the right terms.”
He added: “I have very good discussions with all of my Cabinet colleagues on all issues where we have got a shared agenda.”