New Zealand imports, such as lamb and beef, tend to be cheaper due to lower production costs

The UK government is “swerving” concerns that a New Zealand trade deal would lead to unfair competition for local farmers, MPs have claimed.

A cross-party group of MPs called out the government this week for not addressing concerns that slashing tariffs on cheap NZ goods such as lamb and beef would lead to a contraction of the food sector.

On Tuesday, the government insisted the UK would not experience a “significant influx” of agri-foods imports as a result of the free trade agreement signed in February.

International trade secretary Kemi Badenoch said the deal would boost the UK economy and “deliver multiple benefits for our people, businesses, and economy”.

“The UK-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is estimated to increase trade with New Zealand by almost 60%, boost the UK economy by £800m and increase UK household wages by £200m in the long run,” she wrote in the government’s official response to the international trade committee’s inquiry into the NZ trade agreement.

However, the committee responded this week that the government failed to address its concerns that the “absence of a single, clear trade strategy” would negatively affect domestic suppliers in the long run.

“In its response, the government swerves the committee’s recommendation to publish an overarching trade strategy”, it said in a statement, which “leaves agricultural producers exposed to risk”.

“Some might go as far as to characterise this as playing fast and loose with agriculture in the UK,” said the committee’s chairman, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP. 

The committee said it recognised that cheaper NZ imports “may benefit consumers particularly during the cost of living crisis”, but that it was concerned the government had not considered the full scale of the food security risks the deal brought in the long term.

Read more: UK self-sufficiency contracting, industry leaders warn Efra committee

MPs first warned the government the New Zealand Free Trade agreement would negatively affect the agricultural sector by opening UK markets to cheaper imports including beef, sheepmeat and dairy, in an October 2022 report following a six-month-long inquiry.

It questioned whether the pros and cons of tariff liberalisation had been fully considered by the government, claiming increased competition could lead to a contraction of the UK’s agriculture, forestry, fishing, and semi-processed food sectors.

“The government’s confidence that this will not be an unintended consequence of the New Zealand deal appears rooted in the belief that global affairs will continue as they have done in previous years.

“Time will tell, and for the sake of these already hard-pressed businesses and farmers, we hope the government’s analysis is proved correct, especially given ongoing geopolitical instability.”

The committee called for a debate and a vote in Parliament on the agreement. The government agreed Parliament should have an opportunity to debate similar post-Brexit agreements in the future. However, it disagreed that MPs should be able to vote on them.