Mark Drakeford has argued that the post-Brexit trade deal with Australia could threaten Welsh identity, saying that “we’re talking here about the things that make Wales ‘Wales’ – that’s what’s at stake here”.
In an interview with BBC’s Today programme this morning, the First Minister warned about the impact the deal would have in “Welsh speaking heartlands” and raised concerns over how farmers in the devolved nation could compete.
“How can our hill farmers compete with Australian climates?” he asked. “How can our hill farmers compete with the space that is available for the huge farms that they have in Australia? How can we compete when our standards of animal welfare and environmental standards different and are higher than they are in Australia?”
Drakeford told listeners this morning: “If you have a level playing field you have to take all of those things into account and then you set your tariffs and your quotas to reflect those intrinsic and inherent differences.
“We have no problem with trade deals elsewhere in the world, provided they are fair trade deals, and that’s what’s at the heart of our anxiety.”
Imports from Australia currently face tariffs that make products including beef and lamb more expensive to buy in UK shops, but the UK government has been pursuing free-trade deals with countries following the country’s exit from the EU.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss defended plans for a deal with Australia in parliament on Wednesday, telling MPs that the government would protect British farmers from “unfair practices” to undercut them in the domestic market.
Asked by Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams to rule out offering tax-free access to Australian meat imports during Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson dismissed the concerns and told the MP that he had “no ambition” for Wales.
“It’s a disgrace that not a single morsel of Welsh lamb has passed the lips of the Americans in the last 20 years,” he said. “What about China? Has he no ambition for the people of this country or for the people of Wales or for Welsh farmers?”
Drakeford described this as a “diversion tactic” today, reminding listeners that what is being discussed is a deal with Australia. He also highlighted the impact a free-trade deal could have on Welsh imports of beef and lamb to the EU.
“Europe is our primary market,” he said. “30% of Welsh lamb goes to the EU, 90% of Welsh beef. That is our closest and most important market. And another anxiety we have, of course, is that if you allow products in the UK from places in the world that have lower standards, then that will have an impact on our ability to trade into those much more important markets.”
Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry warned this morning that ministers should not strike the deal to “prove a political point” about the country’s post-Brexit economic independence.
“Why would we want to undermine our farming industry?” she asked. “We have high standards in our country of animal welfare and food production, and we don’t want that undermined by cheap imports of food not produced to the same standard.”
Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru have also voiced strong opposition to the plans. The Nation Farmers’ Union (NFU) and other farming groups have warned that they would “struggle to compete” if zero-tariff trade on lamb and beef went ahead.