Scots condemn 'rushed' Aust trade talks

·2-min read

Food and drink organisations in Scotland have expressed concern that trade deal negotiations with Australia are being rushed, with the UK Government accused of avoiding scrutiny and consultation.

An open letter to UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has been signed by 14 businesses and trade bodies warning about how the talks are being conducted.

Ms Truss has insisted British farmers have nothing to fear and an "awful lot to gain" from a free trade deal with Australia, while suggesting a 5 per cent whisky tariff may be scrapped in the first agreement drawn up from scratch since the UK left the European Union.

But critics of the proposed agreement fear the zero tariffs, zero quotas deal that the government in Canberra is demanding would see British farmers and businesses undercut by Australian rivals.

The 14 leading organisations in Scotland's food and drink sector behind the open letter have also expressed concern about the negotiations, suggesting it could set a bad precedent for future deals.

The letter, with signatories including the chief executives of the National Farmers' Union Scotland, the Scottish Seafood Association and Scotland Food & Drink, said: "We recognise the UK Government's desire to move quickly to create new opportunities with nations beyond the EU.

"However we are concerned that the pace of these negotiations, particularly the free trade agreement with Australia, is too quick and denying the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny and consultation.

"Trade deals are complex and markets are sensitive; the impact of the Brexit deal has demonstrated this."

Elaborating on the worries caused by the potential trade deal, Scotland Food & Drink chief executive James Withers said: "As a food and farming industry we want to be ambitious for global trade.

"The future of our sector relies on it, and international sales of Scottish food and drink are already worth over PS6 billion ($A11 billion) in a normal trading year.

"However, if we rush trade deals through, without any serious scrutiny and no engagement with industry and other experts, we can harm businesses, communities, the environment and the UK's international reputation.

"Frankly, the process behind the Australian negotiations is cause for concern.

"We want to work collaboratively with UK Government on trade but that is very difficult to do when everything happens behind closed doors.

"The importance of the UK-Australian deal goes beyond the relative value to both nations; it could set the framework for all future trade deals.

"So we need to get this right because the price of failure is too high."

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