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Monday, April 02, 2018

Australia show there are no easy post-Brexit free trade deals

Did we really think that the claims of Brexiteers, that countries would be lining up to do advantageous trade deals with us once we leave the EU, was ever going to happen? As unevidenced wishful thinking goes, it was one of the more starry-eyed promises made by the Leave campaign last year.

The Trade Secretary and arch-Brexiteer, Liam Fox, should know, as he has accumulated thousands of air miles in the last year knocking fruitlessly on closed doors. The promised land of free, unadulterated trade enriching our economy once we turn our back on the biggest free trade bloc in the world, is proving yet another fantasy.

As if to underline that point, the Times reports that Australia is preparing to demand that Britain accepts hormone-treated beef as the price of a symbolic early Brexit trade deal.

They say that Liam Fox has identified a deal with Australia as an early “win” and informal discussions have been taking place for the past 18 months. But in return, Britain will be told to scrap a European Union ban on the sale of meat from cattle treated with growth hormones:

The practice can increase their weight gain by more than 10 per cent a day, cutting the time it takes to fatten the animals for market. The EU claims that at least one of the hormones used is carcinogenic and their use has been banned since 1981. The Australians have long disputed this scientific analysis. They see the ban as a form of protectionism to shelter European farmers from competition alongside tariffs of 12.8 per cent.

Sources close to the talks say lifting the ban is a key issue for the Australian side. Mr Fox, the international trade secretary, is understood to be sympathetic, arguing that it would reduce meat prices for consumers. Significantly, while the government has ruled out allowing the import of chlorine-washed chicken on animal welfare grounds, it has made no public comment on hormone-treated beef.

It is little wonder that the Farmers' unions are concerned. John Royle, chief livestock adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Future trade negotiations should ensure a level playing field for British farmers in order for them to be competitive, profitable and productive in the future. We do not believe the British public would want our own farmers to be put at a competitive disadvantage by allowing the import of food produced to different standards and using methods which are not allowed in Britain.”

Without the clout of the European Union behind us we are isolated and having to swallow the unacceptable to do the deals that are needed if we are not to remain that way. This is another fine mess you have got us into Dr Fox.
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