PENRITH and The Border MP, Dr Neil Hudson, questioned the Trade Minister on the details of the UK’s tariff offer to Australia on agricultural exports as part of a wider UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Dr Hudson, who along with UK farmers, is worried that the proposed FTA may damage our farming sector, asked the Trade Minister during an Urgent Question session in the House of Commons for meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and for the Trade and Agriculture Commission to be reconstituted immediately and tariff-rate quotas to be considered.

Dr Hudson said while he welcomed a Free Trade Agreement he shared concerns of farmers in Cumbria and across UK that the deal may damage the farming sector. "It is important that Parliament is able to scrutinise these FTAs, something which is not happening with this deal. The CRAG process is insufficient and the much-welcomed Trade and Agriculture Commission that we all fought for is now not currently constituted and therefore is not looking at this deal. Will the Government commit to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of this agreement and act to reconstitute the Trade and Agriculture Commission immediately, and also consider tariff rate quotas as a sensible way of safeguarding this agreement.”

Greg Hands, Minister for Trade responded that the deal was not done yet and there was nothing to scrutinise. “The reconstituted Trade and Agriculture Commission will be set up soon and definitely in good time to scrutinise this deal. When it comes to safeguards, again this will be specified in the Free Trade Agreement, but typically allow either party to temporarily increase tariffs or to suspend liberalisation in the event of an unexpected or unforeseen big substantial increase in imports. That is normal for a Free Trade Agreement that those kind of safeguards will be in place.”

Afterwards Dr Hudson said: “This is a crucial juncture in the trade negotiations and it is essential that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is reconstituted immediately. The Minister did say this will happen soon and I will certainly be watching that space. Parliamentary scrutiny of FTAs must be meaningful, including the ability to amend or block deals, not merely rubber stamp them after the event. The Minister fell short of committing to tariff rate quotas so the devil will be in the detail on that particular point. I will continue to work with like-minded colleagues from across the House, the EFRA Select Committee and organisations such as the National Farmers’ Union to ensure that the voice of the sector is heard loud and clear.”