Carmichael backs crofting concerns over open-access deal with Australia

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today challenged the government over the potential impact of its open-access deal with Australian agriculture on farming and crofting communities. Mr Carmichael asked the government in Parliament what assessment it had made of the risks to farmers and crofters, and highlighted the concerns raised by the Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation about lower production standards and the potential impact on future trade negotiations with the United States.

Speaking in the House following Mr Carmichael’s question, Trade Minister Greg Hands MP said:

“There will be more UK export opportunities for our food and drink industry with the removal of all Australia tariffs. We have considered the impact on our beef and lamb farmers, which has been balanced by a lengthy 15-year stage. An independent impact assessment will be made prior to implementation.”

Responding, Mr Carmichael said:

“Patrick Krause, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, recently made the point that the real risk for Scottish crofters from the Australian trade deal comes from the fact that other countries with whom we do trade deals will want the same good terms that we gave to Australia. As he said of crofting:

“Crofting is good for food, and also has very impressive environmental and climate-change mitigation credentials. And crofting is about the people – crofting has maintained communities in remote rural places.”

“How much of that does the minister think will be said of the products that will be imported to replace crofted lamb?”

Replying, the minister said:

“I’ve engaged extensively with Scottish farmers, with Martin Kennedy of the Scottish NFU, I’ve done various roundtables with constituency MPs as well. In terms of the impact of Australian beef and lamb imports, we think it is very unlikely that there will be a surge of imports into this country. It is currently very incentivised for Australia to see into Asia. But that it why we built safeguards and a staging period of 15 years into the deal.”

Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:

“If the minister does not expect a surge in Australian goods then it rather begs the question of why Australian negotiators twisted his arm so hard to get that access. The simple fact is that the government’s “caps” on imports are not real safeguards and they are no defence at all for hill farmers and crofters. If they are replicated in a future US trade deal the impact could be severe on vulnerable communities in the Highlands and Islands.”

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