NFU president Minette Batters warned British farmers could be undermined by the deal’s favouring of high-value beef and lamb cuts

The National Farmers Union has slammed the UK government for having “capitulated” to Australia after the two nations put pen to paper on a free trade deal they agreed in principle in June.

According to NFU president Minette Batters, the “one-sided” deal, announced on Friday, gave Australia’s agriculture sector “all it asked for” with little in return for British farmers, who she said were already “facing extraordinary inflationary pressure and sustained labour shortages”.

“Despite assurances that these sectors would be afforded some level of protection, we will see full liberalisation of dairy after just six years, sugar after eight years and beef and lamb after 15 years,” Batters said, warning that British farmers could be undermined by the deal’s favouring of high-value beef and lamb cuts.

“It’s also difficult to discern anything in this deal that will allow us to control imports of food produced below the standards legally required of British farmers, for instance on land deforested for cattle production or systems that rely on the transport of live animals in a way that would be illegal here,” Batters added.

“Ultimately, this deal simply serves to heap further pressure on farm businesses,” she said, referring to challenges the NFU and other major food sector players had outlined in an industry summit earlier this week.

NGO Compassion in World Farming, echoed Batters’ dismay, adding it was “deeply concerned” the deal would expose British farmers to “competition from Australian imports of meat, eggs and dairy produced through inhumane production standards”.

Since the UK left the EU, the government has been seeking trade deals to replace or widen the agreements it had been party to by dint of membership of the bloc. EU member states from January face checks on food and agriculture exports to the UK, though Ireland, a major supplier to the British market, has been given a temporary exemption.

UK food and drink exports plunge 15.9% in 2021 as trade barriers and Covid hit

The “cutting edge” Australia deal, the government said on Friday, was the first “from scratch” agreement since Brexit and could be a “gateway” for the UK to join the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, the Department for International Trade claimed. The UK also hopes to thrash out agreements with agriculture powerhouses India and the US.

Trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the Australia deal was proof of “what the UK can achieve as an agile, independent sovereign trading nation” and later told the BBC that “very clear safeguards” meant the deal would not see British famers undercut.

AHDB earlier this year said the deal was unlikely to lead to the UK being flooded with Australian farm exports, unless Australia was denied access to the huge Chinese market. AHDB suggested British dairy farmers could ultimately increase sales in Australia, where the domestic market is less than half the size of the UK’s.

The wider deal would also see “increased access to Australia for the UK’s powerhouse service sector” and open doors for Brits to work there, according to the UK government – even though Australia has kept its borders largely shut since the start of the pandemic, denying entry even to tens of thousands of its own citizens.

Batters called on MPs “to take a good, hard look” at the deal. which she said the government was using “soundbites” and “rhetoric” to talk up, though she praised authorities for making “some progress” on an export strategy.

The government recently announced a blueprint to expand British overseas sales, including by appointing food trade envoys to work in key export markets.

Farmers warn Ireland imports exemption could be ‘back door’ for rest of EU