Rebuttal: The Importance of a Deal with Australia

Briefings For Britain

Though something of a missed opportunity, the deal is still better than some press coverage gives it credit.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The BBC has recently published an article surveying the pros and cons of the Australia deal.  Although trying to voice both sides of the argument, the piece underplays some of the deal’s benefits whilst ignoring others entirely.  Chief amongst these latter are provisions that enable the mutual recognition of nursing and legal qualifications, and the right granted to under-35s to live and work in either country for three years.

This step will strengthen the UK’s historic ties with Australia, and add momentum to the UK’s pivot towards east Asia.  In the words of the article, ‘context is important’ – specifically the context of an ascendent China which threatens the liberal democracies of east Asia.

Critics of the agreement have persistently argued that trade with Australia will undermine British farmers and negatively affect the environment.  As we’ve suggested before, however, these concerns are largely exaggerated, used by vested interests in the UK to advance a more protectionist economic agenda.

As for the suggestion that liberalisation will set a precedent that will be demanded by other countries, there are neither legal nor political reasons why this should be the case.  If other nations increase their demands in a negotiation, that naturally enables the UK to insist on concessions of its own.  Thinking the contrary is to embrace a lazy slippery slope argument.

Nevertheless, the deal does have failings.  It could have gone much further in tariff liberalisation, sending a clear message to Brussels about the UK’s new independent trade policy and offering real benefits to British consumers.  This limited ambition highlights the lingering influence of essentially protectionist voices – which need to be curtailed if the gains of Brexit are to be realised.

A Crisis in Food Exports?

This need is particularly apparent given the shifts in the UK’s balance of agricultural imports likely in the coming years.  In this vein, the EU news outlet Euractiv this week belatedly reported on the UK food industry’s poor Quarter 1 export figures, with other papers following suit.  This news is hardly recent, and the export figures for those months reflect the impact of the pandemic and of stockpiling in previous months, as well as the effects of Brexit.

In other sectors trade with the EU is largely back to normal levels, despite the impact of the pandemic.  The food and drink sector makes up a relatively small share of the UK’s total exports at only 6.4% of the total (in 2019), and the UK imports just over double the value of food (£47.9bn) and drink by value as it exports (£23.6bn).

The UK’s most valuable export, moreover, is whisky – which at a value of £1.5bn is worth almost five times the amount of chocolate, its next.  This will benefit greatly from the removal of Australian and US tariffs.  This gain will particularly aid Unionists to sell Brexit in Scotland, as the UK’s ability to set its own trade policy played a significant role in coming to an agreement with America.

However, the food and drink sector is particularly at risk from the EU’s rigid insistence on imposing full health checks on imports – given the perishable character of the goods sent and the complexity of the bureaucracy required.  When the UK fully implements checks on EU imports, this situation will become the more acute.  Finding new markets for importers and and exporters to supplement Europe’s is thus all the more imperative.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author

Briefings For Britain