You might have seen a lot about trade deals in the news or your social media feeds recently. But it is all quite technical, and it can be hard to know how important it really is. So here we have outlined why it matters.
Since we left the EU, the UK must renegotiate trade deals. For a lot of them this just involved rolling over the same deal we previously had as part of the EU. But other Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are being created from scratch. The first of these to be agreed is the deal with Australia.
Australia’s animal welfare standards aren’t as high as ours. To give just a few examples, they allow battery cages for hens, sow stalls, much longer journeys, and a horrible practice called mulesing that involves stripping off the skin of sheep around their tails, to avoid fly-strike (this is often done without pain relief).
By allowing tariff free trade with Australia, we are supporting and endorsing these practices, in direct contradiction of the morals of many people and of the UK Government’s promises that trade deals would not compromise our animal welfare standards.
Farmers in the UK can’t compete financially with ‘products’ from Australia, meaning that they will struggle to maintain current welfare standards, never mind improve them. As author and farmer James Rebanks writes:
Farmers are drawing a simple and obvious conclusion: intensify or die […] Perhaps worst of all, for me, is that this deal has killed support among farmers for higher welfare and ecological standards and regulation. I can’t win that argument with my farming friends now — not now they’re unprotected from being undercut by imports […] Sadly, they have to do what they have to do, and we will all be the poorer for it.
Currently Australia only sends a small amount of meat to the UK. This new deal makes it possible for them to increase this drastically (the new beef quota is 60x the current one) but it is hard to tell if they actually will. Their ability to raise more animals is restricted by drought, and it is unclear if there is good reason for them to divert some of the meat they currently export to their main markets in Asia. So, there may not be a huge immediate change.
But this trade deal sends the message that animal welfare doesn’t matter, and that is possibly the worst outcome of it.
It sets a dangerous precedent for other upcoming trade deals, such as those with Pacific rim countries, the US and India – there is no reason for those countries not to assume that they will get similar terms, which means opening our doors to more imports of animal ‘products’ raised in ways not congruent with our morals.
FTAs are about maximising profit and smoothing the path for easy movement of products around the world. But this is coming at a heavy cost to the animals, humans and environments involved.
The UK Government does not have a trade policy or require parliamentary approval of trade deals, and the body set up to examine FTAs, the Trade and Agriculture Commission, is not yet operational. This means a worrying lack of scrutiny, in comparison to many other countries where parliament must approve trade deals.
Trade is reserved to Westminster, so the Scottish Government has no formal role in negotiating trade agreements. However, since our departure from the EU it has lobbied to have this changed. Recently, it has written to the UK Government to express concern about the issues with the Australia trade deal.
OneKind opposes any trade deal that does not require the other country to have equivalent standards to ours. As part of the Trade and Animal Welfare Coalition UK we are working towards improvements in this and future trade deals.
These FTAs are part of a problematic international food system that we should be moving away from. As part of the Scottish Food Coalition, we want to see a shift towards local, less intensive food systems that improve the wellbeing of humans and other animals.