The Australian red meat industry today welcomed the launch of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (A-UK FTA) negotiations, under unique circumstances.
Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Simon Birmingham, and UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss, launched the negotiations via video conference, a phenomenon we are growing accustomed to in the era of COVID-19.
It was also unique in that the UK, as a consequence of Brexit, is now on the path to securing trade relationships independently of the European Union (EU) – for the first time in 48 years.
“Prior to the UK joining the EU (or European Economic Community, as it was then known), the UK was one of Australia’s principle red meat export markets,” said Andrew McDonald, Chair of the Australia-UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce.*
“A lot has changed since then, including the development of markets closer to home, but longstanding commercial relationships have prevailed and we strongly endorse the launch of bilateral negotiations in support of enhancing the current trade.
“Whilst an enduring partner, Australia’s beef and sheepmeat access has been limited by virtue of the UK being a member of the EU.
“Compared with many other countries supplying the EU, Australia has disproportionately low volume quota access coupled with trade prohibitive above quota tariffs. This import regime has stifled Australia’s ability to respond to growing UK consumer demand for high quality beef, sheepmeat and goatmeat.
“Our industry will therefore be encouraging negotiators from both sides to think beyond the quota and tariff construct the UK has become accustomed to, and embrace the merits of liberalised trade – a regime which is conferring significant benefits to both the Australian red meat supply chain and our international consumer base via the suite of FTAs Australia has secured to date.
“Our connection with the UK is already based on shared values, with our sector providing UK importers, distributers and consumers with a trusted source of high quality product, including the provision of supplies on a counter-seasonal basis as required. Now we have the opportunity to take this mutually beneficial trading relationship to the next level.”
Mr McDonald said the Taskforce was encouraged by both the Australian and UK Governments commitment that they would seek an ambitious and comprehensive FTA, with the Australian Government prioritising enhanced market access for goods – including red meat.
“We look forward to working closely with Australia’s negotiating team to deliver the best possible result for Australian red meat producers, processors and exporters – as well as meeting the future requirements of discerning UK consumers.”
The best beef for Britain
Cattle Council of Australia says a Free Trade Agreement with the United Kingdom is an opportunity to improve access to one of the world’s most important high-value markets.
Cattle Council CEO Travis Tobin said a priority for Australia should be unhindered access for prime beef cuts.
“The United Kingdom is home to some of the world’s best restaurants and we have the world’s best beef,” Mr Tobin said.
“Brits were eating Australian beef for decades before joining the EU – they know it’s a good product. For example, more than 100,000 tonnes of beef was shipped to the UK in 1973.
“They demand the world’s best and we lead the world in eating-quality, nutrition and sustainability.
“Our $19 billion beef business will strengthen long-term food security in the UK. And with 66 million customers, the UK is potentially a big market for Australian producers.
“What’s more, people in the UK have the disposable income to go out and buy a premium cut.
“Trade deals are a two-way street and we must make sure any agreement delivers an overall benefit to our industry.
“We share common values with UK beef producers and look forward to striking a deal that compliments those values.
“A well-negotiated FTA will further diversify our markets giving Australian producers greater certainty.
“Australian officials must make access for our beef a top priority in negotiating a deal.
“Our beef industry underpins more than 172,000 jobs in all parts of Australia, from our biggest cities to right through the outback.”
According to MLA literature, the UK is Australia’s largest market in the Europe region but consumption remains dominated by British and Irish beef, which are perceived as fresher and more convenient to purchase. British beef also appeals to loyal UK consumers, with some supermarkets shifting to 100pc local sourcing and branding, particularly following the 2013 horsemeat scandal.