Damaging effects of FTAs on UK farmers was known before key post-Brexit trade talks with New Zealand and Australia began, Westminster data reveals

Former trade secretary and current Conservative leader hopeful Liz Truss

Former trade secretary and current Conservative leader hopeful Liz Truss

Former UK trade secretary and current Conservative leadership hopeful Liz Truss was warned in 2020 by her own officials that post-Brexit trade pacts with Australia and New Zealand would damage Britain’s farming and food sectors, news organisation Politico reports.

Data from Westminster prepared ahead of the FTA negotiations in 2020, and since shared with Politico, showed that the deals would hit British agriculture and food production hardest. Yet Truss forged ahead with the pacts, which were already opposed by British farmers.

Politico reports that this latest disclosure has sparked anger from the National Farmers Union (NFU), which argued the deals would hit its members hard.

NFU President Minette Batters told the organisation: “It’s simply infuriating that the government ploughed on in its negotiations while, as these own government department reports show, ministers knew that British agriculture was likely to be the most impacted sector, putting at risk hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of jobs.”

The trade department responded, saying it ”does not sign trade deals which do not work for UK producers and businesses”.

The revalatory data was obtained through a Freedom of Information request lodged by former Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry and shared exclusively with Politico, which separately interrogated and verified the data.

It shows that:

  • Officials advised Truss an Australia deal would spark a 3.44 per cent shift in employment away from the semi-processed foods sector over 15 years, making it the hardest-hit part of the U.K. economy in employment terms.
  • At the same time, the department projected a 0.46 per cent drop in the value of that sector to the U.K. economy under the Australia deal.
  • For the New Zealand pact, Truss was warned to expect a 2.69 per cent shift in employment away from semi-processed foods to other sectors, and a 2.97 per cent hit to its economic value.
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing were also set to take a hit, the analysis showed. The department projected a 0.69 per cent long-term shift in jobs away from agriculture, forestry and fishing under the Australia pact, and a 0.16 per cent dip to the sector’s value over the same span.
  • For the New Zealand pact, Truss was advised agriculture, forestry and fishing would see a 0.60 per cent shift in employment away from the sector, and a 0.85 per cent blow to its gross value.

The projections were made under the department’s “Scenario 2,” an outcome that most closely resembles the final deals struck with each nation, Politico said.

Truss laid the groundwork for the deals with Australia and New Zealand after being appointed trade secretary by Johnson in July 2019, and oversaw negotiations until her appointment as foreign secretary in September 2021.