The Commerce Secretary said there was “no downside” to the UK-New Zealand trade deal, as it was challenged by MPs over the impact that the deal will take on British farmers.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan has sought to allay fears that New Zealand meat products are flooding the UK market after the two countries reached a tentative deal on a free trade deal last month.
The government said the deal would cut red tape for businesses and end tariffs on exports, but the National Farmers’ Union warned there was a “huge downside” to the deals with Australia and New Zealand.
International Trade Committee Chairman Angus MacNeil added to this criticism during a hearing on Wednesday, telling the Cabinet minister he believed Wellington was “30 times more satisfied” with the terms of the bilateral trade deal than the United Kingdom.
But Ms Trevelyan – who was promoted to her Cabinet post in the September reshuffle – told the Commons committee that the deal was “excellent” for farmers and that “protections” for the sector would be written into the terms. .
“I think it’s great for farmers and I think it’s a fantastic deal to remove tariffs on all food and drink exports, from gin and chocolate to pork and wine,” she declared.
âThere is a wide spectrum of liberalization on all of this.
“We will include protections for our agricultural industry where there are sensitivities – a range of tools to defend British farmers against any unfair trade practices that may be lurking, and things like liberalizing tariffs on sensitive products like beef and lamb will be staged over time.
âIt creates a level of protectionâ¦ I am very convinced that this is a good deal. “
Pressed on what the UK had ‘ceded’ to ensure better access to the UK service sector in New Zealand, she replied: ‘There’s no downside there – it’s a big deal. reach and they want to move forward and be part of our expertise.
“It’s not about conceding, it’s about liberalizing.”
During the hour-long sitting in front of MPs, Ms Trevelyan said she recognized there was ‘anxiety’ as the legal text of the deal was still being finalized, but claimed that farmers would not be âinjuredâ.
Under the agreement, New Zealand will benefit from better access to the UK market for lamb exports.
The deal will see all lamb quotas lifted after 15 years, but before that there will be a quota of 35,000 tonnes for the first four years, and then an additional 50,000 tonnes thereafter.
However, the quota will only be accessible once the country’s existing quota via the World Trade Organization (WTO) of 114,000 tonnes is 90% full. Officials have said Wellington is currently only using half of its WTO quota.
Ms Trevelyan said: âIn terms of New Zealand trade, they currently have a big WTO quota that they don’t use with us anyway.
“This particular trade deal is by no means something that will cause great anxiety as they have a duty-free quota that they are not using here as they are focusing on these Asia-Pacific markets.”
Ms Trevelyan said if more beef came from New Zealand it was likely that imports from the European Union would be displaced “rather than harming British farmers”.
Meanwhile, she has denied claims that the UK is delaying signing the trade deal it has with Australia.
Asked about reports that the final text of the deal has not been released because Britain is trying to ‘roll back’ on tariffs on meat, the Trade Secretary said: ‘No, we do not back down on anything. “
“We are just in the final throes,” she added.