The UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with New Zealand is a “disgrace” that will undercut farmers by shipping in meat produced to lower welfare and environmental standards, a senior government climate adviser has said.
Boris Johnson’s government claimed the agreement-in-principle struck earlier this week would boost trade by ending tariffs and cut red tape for British businesses.
But Lord Deben – chair of the independent Climate Change Committee (CCC) which advises the government – said the deal put both British farmers and consumers at risk.
“The New Zealand trade deal is a disgrace,” the former Tory agriculture minister told a farming conference event.
Lord Debden added: “It is not acceptable and it is completely at odds with everything the government has promised to do to safeguard our farmers and protect UK consumers. We are looking for sustainability – not unsustainable trade deals.”
International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told British farmers they should not worry about the deal, saying it was a “possibility” they could start sending more lamb to New Zealand rather than suffer from cheap imports.
But both opposition parties and agricultural groups have condemned the new trade deal, saying it would damage British farmers by shipping in cheaper meat produced to lower standards.
Speaking at the Soil Association’s conference, Lord Debden called for clarity from ministers on the Environmental Land Management Scheme – the standards designed to replace schemes currently available under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
The top climate adviser claimed the government’s claims on both the environment and farming were “too vague, lacked substance and was ducking the chance to achieve clarity”.
The government’s food strategy adviser Henry Dimbleby also attacked the government for “ignoring his advice” – saying the deal could jeopardise Britain’s environmental standards.
“There is no point in creating a food and farming system here that looks after animals, sequesters carbon, and supports biodiversity, if overseas products on our shelves don’t do the same,” he said.
National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said the new deal – coupled with the earlier agreement signed with Australia – will open the UK to “significant extra volumes of imported food” while “securing almost nothing in return for UK farmers”.
Ms Batters said: “This could damage the viability of many British farms in the years ahead, to the detriment of the public, who want more British food on their shelves, and to the detriment of our rural communities and cherished farmed landscapes.”
The Department for International Trade said the deal would “remove barriers to trade and deepen access for our advanced tech and services companies”, and it would also make it easier for small businesses to take advantage of the New Zealand market.
Tariffs as high as 10 per cent will be removed on a huge range of UK goods – from clothing and footwear to buses, ships, bulldozers and excavators.
However, the government’s own forecasts predict a trade deal with New Zealand could overall slightly reduce the size of the UK economy, with gains from cheaper imports being offset by damage to domestic farming communities.