International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said British farmers have nothing to fear and an “awful lot to gain” from a free trade deal with Australia.
The Government is hoping to secure agreement in principle on its first trade deal to be negotiated from scratch since leaving the EU ahead of next month’s G7 summit in Cornwall.
However, ministers face a backlash from UK farmers who fear the zero tariffs, zero quotas deal that the government in Canberra is demanding would see them undercut by Australian rivals.
In particular, there are fears that smaller beef and lamb producers in Scotland and Wales will be unable to compete with the typically much larger Australian farms.
Ms Truss, however, said that a deal with Australia was a first step towards joining the wider Trans-Pacific Partnership, unlocking the expanding Asia markets for British producers.
“British farmers have absolutely nothing to fear from this deal at all. In fact, we’ve got an awful lot to gain, particularly from the wider opportunities in the Asia Pacific area,” she told The Sun on Sunday.
“That’s where demand for beef and lamb is expected to rise significantly over the next 10 years and we are gaining more access to those markets. This is where the big opportunities lie.
“I’m absolutely confident the deal we strike will enable our farmers to compete successfully.”
Officials have stressed that any changes to the tariff regime would be phased in over a period of up to 15 years, giving farmers time to adapt to the new trading conditions.
However, that has done little to allay the concerns of farmers who fear they could be wiped out if there is complete trade liberalisation.
They received support from Environment Secretary George Eustice and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove who is concerned it could fuel demands for Scottish and Welsh independence.
The deadlock in Government was finally broken at a meeting last week of senior ministers when Boris Johnson came down in favour of a deal.