Cabinet split over Australian trade deal that would allow tariff-free meat imports

·2-min read
Environment Secretary George Eustice (PA Archive)
Environment Secretary George Eustice (PA Archive)

A Cabinet split over a trade deal with Australia emerged today as the Environment Secretary warned that any agreement must be “on the right terms” for UK farmers.

George Eustice’s comments followed an FT report that he and Michael Gove are at loggerheads with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Brexit minister Lord Frost over the shape of a deal that would allow Australian beef and lamb to be imported tariff free.

Open access to the UK market could drive British cattle and sheep farmers out of business, hitting jobs in Scotland and Wales hardest, according to industry estimates.

But Ms Truss and Lord Frost are said to believe that there would be no point in Brexit unless free trade deals are struck.

Mr Eustice told Sky: “At the moment there’s a very clear consensus in Government that we want to do a trade agreement with countries like Australia, but obviously on the right terms.”

He argued there was a “balance to be struck” between opening up trade and protecting domestic industries.”

International Trade Secretary Ms Truss is understood to regard the first major post-Brexit trade deal as a “crunch point” for Britain’s future with a desire to finalise it before June’s G7 conference in Cornwall.

She has said she would officially start trade talks with Canada and Mexico, adding to those under way with India, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Eustice said: “I’m not going to get into discussions that are going on in Government about individual trade agreements.

“In any discussion on any part of Government policy, and trade agreements are no exception, there’s a discussion and there’s a consensus.

“We think there’s great opportunities, we’re very keen for instance to pursue trade agreements with Australia and also with the United States and with other countries as well.”

He added: “I have very good discussions with all of my Cabinet colleagues on all issues where we have got a shared agenda.”

Ms Truss recently told the Express that the UK was preparing to start talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“We will be the first non-founding member to join this high-standards pact, opening a huge gateway for UK businesses to 11 vibrant Pacific markets,” she said.

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