UK-Aus trade deal slammed by former minister

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A former UK cabinet minister has criticized the country's FTA with Australia, saying Westminster gave away too many concessions to importers.


A former UK government minister has criticized the free trade agreement (FTA) signed with Australia, saying negotiators gave away too much in their eagerness to strike a deal quickly.

George Eustace, who was environment secretary under prime minister Boris Johnson, told the House of Commons the agreement was "not a very good deal for the UK" and urged the new administration of Rishi Sunak to learn lessons from the mistakes made by the Department for International Trade.

Mr Eustice, who lost his role when Liz Truss briefly came to power in September, added that now he was no longer a minister, he was not required to put a "positive gloss" on the deal. The FTA was heralded by the UK government at the time as a model for future deals, being the first post-Brexit agreement negotiated from scratch rather than rolling over pre-existing EU arrangements.

He also pointed the finger directly at Ms Truss for the lopsided outcome, which he claimed gave away too many concessions to the Australian agricultural sector, such as the scrapping of quotas on beef and lamb imports, which were then repeated in the FTA with New Zealand.

Mr Eustace claimed this was a result of Ms Truss - who was international trade secretary at the time - setting an "arbitrary target" to have the deal completed in time for the 2021 G7 summit, which meant the UK was forced to abandon its previously strong negotiating position.

The lessons learned from the UK-Aus FTA should be considered during accession talks for entry into the multilateral Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), Mr Eustice continued. 

He told parliament that Westmister should be prepared to spend up to a decade negotiating CPTPP entry and must never again put the country in a position of "setting the clock against us and shattering our own negotiating position".

A source close to current UK trade secretary Kemi Badenoch dismissed Mr Eustice's criticisms, telling BBC News that neither Australia nor New Zealand fully use their tariff-free import allocations and the deal will not damage British farming.