A TARIFF-free trade deal between the UK and Australia could threaten agricultural workers and food standards, local farmers have warned.
The Government is expected to offer Australia a free trade this month which would phase-out all quotas on imports over the next 15 years.
But it’s feared that disparity between the two countries’ animal welfare standards and meat production costs would mean that domestic agricultural produce would be undercut by cheaper, hormone-fed Australian beef.
Colin Ferguson, Dumfries and Galloway’s regional chairman for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland, said it would be “small family farms” that would be hit hardest.
Colin, who runs Knockann Farm in Wigtown, added: “I think to be quite blunt we feel betrayed by the Government and I’m going to say that we probably aren’t against free-trade at all but what we are against is trade that undermines our standards that we set within this country.
“If those goods can be exported to us cheaper or produced to a cost less than it would cost for us to produce here be- cause the standards aren’t as high or they use products that are banned here then it’s not fair trading because we can’t meet them on production costs because they’ve got tools in their chest that we’re banned from using.
“28 per cent of all businesses in the south of Scotland are agricultural-based, that’s 12,000 full-time jobs, Dumfries and Galloway is the third largest agriculture industry in Scotland so it’s going to affect us as much as anywhere else because we don’t have the urban centres, we don’t have the service sector, we have agriculture – that is our powerhouse down here and if it’s undercut, it’s going to affect every single one of us.”
Colin also criticised the MP for Dumfries and Galloway, Alister Jack, for not meeting with the NFU to discuss the concerns.
He said: “I’ve been in my post two years and I’ve yet to meet with him. We request every time we have a roundtable, every other MP and MSP has made the effort to come to our roundtables and Alister hasn’t so that just shows you how well he’s listening to the agriculture community.”
Former NFU president Andrew McCornick, from Barnbackle Farm near Dumfries, said: “It’s bringing a product into the market that would be illegal for us to produce, that’s where the real question is. I don’t have access to the actual detail that they’re negotiating on and that makes it more difficult.
“There’s 63,000 farmers and crofters in Scotland, but there’s 360,000 jobs directly related to that in the process and supply so they’d be doing a slew of damage to the internal market within the UK and I’d like to think they’re not going to allow that to happen.
“I don’t see the detail and everybody’s speculating and I think they’re right to be nervous, I genuinely think the government’s got to get this right because it could do a lot of damage.”