The Welsh lamb industry would be ruined, and British farming devastated, if Australian farmers are granted unfettered access to UK food markets, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has warned.

The union's message to ministers comes after the Financial Times reported a rift in Westminster over plans to give Australia tariff-free access under any proposed deal.

The UK's international trade secretary Liz Truss is understood to be under pressure to grant tariff-free access for farmers in Australia and New Zealand in  to secure the new trade deals.  

But UK environment secretary George Eustice is concerned that doing so could spark a backlash from the farming industry due to the impact of potential zero-tariff imports of lamb and beef.

John Davies, the president of the NFU in Wales, joined his counterparts from the rest of the UK  condemning any  move to give overseas farmers unrestricted access to UK markets, which they said would have enormous implications for farmers and the environment.

The union says there are concerns over food standards and fears smaller-scale British farms could not compete with the prices offered and output of much bigger Australian producers.

There are warnings, too, that the spirit and terms of this deal with Australia will – if it is completed – set the precedent for all future trade negotiations between the UK and other countries.

"We are a country of small farmers," said NFU Cymru president Mr Davies. "It's absolutely vital that our ambition to lead around the subjects of standards, climate change and welfare-friendly food are not undercut.

"This trade deal will set the bar for future trade deals, so it's incredibly important that we get this right."

The NFU presidents warned that Wales and the other devolved areas of the UK would be hit hardest by any tariff-free trade deal because they were the most reliant on agriculture.

Welsh Government ministers today said any UK trade deal with Australia must not disadvantage Welsh farmers.

“Farmers and food producers play a crucial role in our society, economy and environment," said Wales' new economy minister Vaughan Gething.

"We have been very clear with the UK government that any new trade deals must not cause an un-level playing field, by giving food importers with lower standards an economic advantage in our market compared to our own producers.”

Rural affairs minister Lesley Griffiths said Wales was "extremely proud" of its standards for animal welfare, food safety and the environment.

"No trade agreement should ever undermine that or our domestic legislation and the Welsh Government has consistently made this point to the UK government," she added.


Amid reports Ms Truss is seeking to complete a trade deal with Australia before June's G7 summit, environment secretary Mr Eustice said there was "a very clear consensus" in the UK government to do a trade deal "but obviously on the right terms".

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson's official spokesman sought to allay any fears over a trade deal. He said any agreement would "include protections for the agricultural industry and won’t undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards".

But shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said the UK government should choose to protect farmers over wrapping up a deal as quickly as possible.

“It’s perfectly normal that the Australian government should try to get the best possible deal for its agricultural mega-corporations," she said.

“But British family farmers have a right to expect that Liz Truss will do the same for them, not sell out their livelihoods for the price of a quick trade deal, and a cheap headline at the G7 summit."

Minette Batters, the NFU president in England who has previously warned a trade deal could cause "irreversible damage" to the UK farming industry if negotiations are not properly balanced, said the argument was not about whether or not there should be a trade deal, but was about making sure "safeguards are in place" for British farmers.

Welsh NFU leader Mr Davies said the details of the trade deal would be crucial in Wales where "lamb and beef are incredibly important...and some of the most vulnerable sectors".

Beyond fears a tariff-free deal could "wipe out agriculture as we know it," Victor Chestnutt, the president of the Ulster Farmers' Union (Northern Ireland), highlighted the "devastating" environmental impacts such a deal could have if it led to a huge upswing in the quantities of produce being transported between Australia and the UK.

"We don't see any sense in doing this," he said. "Food shouldn't be flying around the world. For climate change, the more local [food] can be produced, the better."

Farming leaders will now look to the public for support, in the belief the average consumer will be concerned about food standards and the origins and quality of products that appear on supermarket shelves.

Martin Kennedy, the president of NFU Scotland, said the pandemic had "focused people's minds...on where food comes from" 

He added: "Food security [is] a lot higher up the agenda...People want to buy more locally. Climate change is the top of the agenda. The environment is top of the agenda [and] the key to both of these is food production."

Mr Davies said there was evidence consumers wanted UK food standards to be upheld. A recent NFU petition, calling on people to say they "want the food I eat to be produced to world-leading standards," has collected more than 1,057,000 signatures to date.

"We have a situation where we have the general public with us; the consumer with us," Mr Davies said, adding that the union's concern over the details of the proposed trade deal were "very much in tune with what the general public wants, both in Wales and across the UK".

Additional reporting: Geraldine Scott, PA.

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