Brexit: UK-Australia trade deal ‘as one-sided as the Ashes’, Tory MP tells ministers

Questions raised about deal struck in December, as talks with US on steel tariffs begin

Adam Forrest
Thursday 20 January 2022 11:17
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The post-Brexit trade deal Boris Johnson’s government struck with Australia is as “one-sided” as the Ashes cricket series, a Conservative MP has told ministers.

Tory MP Neil Hudson said he was worried that the free trade agreement (FTA) could see British farmers undercut and “undermined” by cheap Australian meat imports.

“Free trade agreements should be fair to both partners,” he said the Commons. “The Australian FTA, dare I say it, like the Ashes cricket series, is a bit one-sided in favour of Australia.”

Mr Hudson said ministers still had to assure UK farmers that safeguard mechanisms in December’s deal would have enough “teeth” to “turn down the supply of meat” from Australia in the years ahead.

International trade secretary Anne-Maria Trevelyan responded by claiming the safeguards would protect British farmers and make sure “fantastic British produce” doesn’t suffer from unfair competition.

It comes as the government announced that the US has agreed to begin talks to remove the tariffs on British steel and aluminium imposed under Donald Trump’s administration.

Ms Trevelyan told the Commons she spoken with US commerce secretary Gina Raimondo on Wednesday – saying the UK was pushing Joe Biden’s administration to “remove these unnecessary and burdensome tariffs” and was “confident” of an agreement.

The 25 per cent tariff on steel and 10 per cent tariff on aluminium were imposed by the Trump administration during a dispute with the EU in 2018.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock pointed out to Ms Trevelyan that the EU had managed to get the Biden administration to drop tariffs in October – suggesting the US had been punishing Britain over the threat to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“Here we are three months later and talks are only just starting,” said Mr Kinnock. He said that “the probable cause is the government’s shambolic handling” of recent talks with the EU.

Labour also pushed Ms Trevelyan to confirm whether Mr Johnson had personally raised the issue of steel tariffs with Mr Biden, but the trade secretary said only that talks had happened at “all levels of government”.

“The prime minister has been more interested in saving his own job than he has in saving jobs in the steel sector,” said shadow trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. “The longer these tariffs they remain in place the more damage to our steel sector.”

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) international director Andy Burwell said it is “vital” to agree a negotiated settlement on steel tariffs to “ease pressure on affected industries”.

Alasdair McDiarmid, Community steelworkers’ union operations director, said: “This is welcome news but the talks must proceed at pace to limit damage to our steel industry.”

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