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The government has come under renewed criticism over its free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, with opponents restating arguments the deals will force British farmers to compete with meat produced to lower standards than in the UK.

According to a report by think tank Res Publica, the FTAs would in time allow tariff-free access to the UK for beef and lamb from Australia and New Zealand – “without any conditionality or commitment as regards animal welfare standards”.

Asked about the report, a spokeswoman for the Department of International Trade said “when signing trade agreements, our position is clear – we will not compromise on our high animal welfare and food production standards”.

But Res Publica warned the government against replicating the animal welfare and standards provisions in the FTAs in future trade deals, several of which are being negotiated.

The government hopes to soon wrap up a FTA with India, which is on track to next year overtake China as the world’s most populous country. One of the world’s biggest food markets and sources, India produces the most milk of any country and is by far the world’s biggest rice exporter. 

“The UK can and must go further than the recent trade deals with Australia and New Zealand to ensure that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are maintained in the UK”, Res Publica said of future arrangements.

The British Meat Processors’ Association said it endorsed the Res Publica report, which it said “exposed a number of flaws in the UK’s recent trade deals with Australia and New Zealand that open the door to food produced to lower standards of animal welfare”.

The DIT spokeswoman said the deals “include unprecedent animal welfare chapters” and pointed to findings by the Trade & Agriculture Commission she said “concluded neither agreement undermines the UK’s domestic protections”.

The government, which has been accused of trying to dodge parliamentary scrutiny over the deals, has maintained that imports, which make up an estimated 46% of food consumed in the UK, will have to continue to meet requirements set out by the Food Standards Agency, regardless of origin or trade deal.

The NFU, which joined the RSPCA in contributing to the Res Publica report, has spoken out frequently against the Australia and New Zealand deals since they were agreed last year. In contrast, levy board AHDB has played down concerns the UK would be “flooded” with more cheaply produced Antipodean agri-food, saying both countries would prioritise more lucrative beef and lamb markets closer to home in Asia. AHDB further argued the deals could lead to exporting opportunities for UK dairy.