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UK hails 'historic' post-Brexit trade deal with Australia, but British farmers are wary

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By Euronews  with AP/AFP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, greets Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at 10 Downing Street, in London, June 14, 2021.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, greets Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison at 10 Downing Street, in London, June 14, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

The UK announced on Tuesday that it had reached a "historic" post-Brexit trade deal with Australia.

It is the first agreement obtained by London that is not simply a renewal or adaptation of those that exist between the EU and other countries, according to a Downing Street statement.

The main elements of the deal were agreed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison during negotiations in London on Monday evening, Downing Street has confirmed. The final agreement will be published "in the coming days."

"Today marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values," Johnson said in a statement.

Downing Street said the agreement means iconic British products like cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell into Australia but that British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards.

The deal also enables British citizens under the age of 35 to travel and work in Australia more freely.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan had earlier said that the agreement "is a win for jobs, businesses, free trade and highlights what two liberal democracies can achieve while working together,” Tehan added.

Tariff small print issue

Britain's main opposition Labour party has however described it as a "sell-out" by the Conservative government.

It argued that the deal fails British farmers by effectively granting their Australian counterparts immediate and unlimited tariff-free access to the UK beef and lamb market.

According to Labour, Australia can now up beef exports to the UK by more than 60 times their 2020 levels before any tariffs would kick in.

"Instead of using the opportunity of Britain's first post-Brexit trade deal to create jobs in every sector, drive our economic recovery, and raise standards around the world, the government has done the opposite with this agreement on agriculture, " Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, said in a statement.

"No other country in the world would accept such a terrible deal for its farming industry, and neither should we," she added.

British farmers fear they won’t be able to compete with cheap imports from Australia, which has different rules on animal welfare and environmental protection than the U.K.

U.K. farm groups reacted with caution, saying they were waiting to see the details of the agreement.

“The ultimate test of this trade deal will be whether it contributes to moving farming across the world onto a more sustainable footing, or whether it instead undermines U.K. farming and merely exports the environmental and animal welfare impact of the food we eat," National Farmers Union President Minette Batters said in a statement.

The UK was Australia’s fifth-largest trading partner in 2019 with trade between the two countries totalling £13.9 billion (€15.8 billion) last year.

The British government also argued the deal with Australia is also "a gateway" to the Indo-Pacific region and will boost its bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which gathers 11 Pacific nations including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The agreement is Australia’s 15th free trade agreement.