UK FTAs with Australia and NZ come into force - who are the winners?

Industry News | | MIC Customs Solutions |

Who is set to benefit most from new FTAs between the UK and Australia and New Zealand that come into force at the end of this month?

This month will see two of the UK's first fully post-Brexit free trade agreements (FTAs) officially come into force, as deals with Australia and New Zealand take effect.

With Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese and his NZ counterpart Chris Hipkins both in London in May for the Coronation of King Charles III, the leaders took the opportunity to meet with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak to highlight the benefits of the deals.

Mr Sunak said: "As some of our closest allies, and greatest friends, I am delighted our first built from scratch trade deals are with Australia and New Zealand."

However, the FTAs have not been without their critics, with some commentators and politicians in Westminster suggesting they are too lop-sided in favor of the UK's trading partners. So who are the real winners of the two FTAs and what could be the short and long-term consequences of the new arrangements?

The key benefits of the Aus and NZ FTAs

Among the key changes that will take effect from midnight on May 31st will be the removal of tariffs from both Australian and New Zealand markets for UK imports, as well as more flexible rules of origin. The UK government says this will give the country's firms an important edge over international rivals when looking to expand into these markets.

Meanwhile, Australian and New Zealand exporters will also gain tariff-free access for the majority of goods, including key food and drink items.

In the long term, the UK government has estimated that the deals will help increase bilateral trade with Australia by 53 percent and with New Zealand by 59 percent. However, the actual impact on the UK's economy is set to be fairly limited, with one government report forecasting the Australian deal would only increase GDP by around 0.04 percent.

UK trade secretary Kemi Badenoch said: "With these two deals the UK is using our status as an independent trading nation to tailor agreements to our country’s economic strengths ... Putting these trade deals into action will help create new opportunities for business, boosting wages and helping spur economic growth."

Winemakers, farmers and fisheries among key beneficiaries

Most observers expect the biggest beneficiaries of the deals to be Australian and New Zealand farmers, fisheries and vineyards, and industry groups in these sectors have welcomed the FTAs.

Sarah Wilson, general manager of advocacy and general counsel at New Zealand Winegrowers, said the deal is "very positive" for the sector. She added: "It will more closely align the winemaking standards across the two countries, and help reduce technical barriers to trade, by minimizing burdens from certification and labeling requirements on New Zealand wine exports."

The UK is currently New Zealand's second-largest market for wine, with exports valued at over NZ$$470 million last year. It is a similar story for Australian winemakers, with the UK accounting for AU$450 million worth of exports in 2021, putting it just behind the US. The reduction in tariffs is therefore estimated to save Australian businesses as much as AU$50 million a year.

Tariffs on Australian seafood items including lobster, salmon, barramundi and coral trout, which were previously set at 12 percent, will also become zero-rated, which Seafood Industry Australia chief executive Veronica Papacosta described as "great news".

One of the most contentious aspects of the FTAs has been agricultural products, with many UK farmers concerned that cheap imports from large-scale Australian farms will undercut domestic meat. To counter this, tariffs on beef and lamb imports will remain for the next ten years. However, during this transition period, the quota for duty-free items will rise from 35,000 tonnes to 110,000 tonnes. 

Andrew McDonald from Meat and Livestock Australia told ABC that this incremental approach will mean Australian farmers should not expect an immediate "sugar hit" of sales to the UK, but it will present a major incentive for exporters to introduce UK consumers to their products over the coming years.

"It will take time for consumers in the UK to understand what in the Australian range of production is best to their liking," he said.

How will the deals affect UK exporters?

For UK companies, many of the benefits of the two FTAs are expected to be in the services sector, which accounts for 80 percent of the country's economic output. However, goods exporters are also set to enjoy easier access to Australian and New Zealand markets, with the UK government highlighting opportunities for UK spiritus such as gin, confectionery and vehicles.

Ethical chocolate firm Seed and Bean, for example, had previously exported to Australia and New Zealand before COVID-19 restrictions halted sales. However, the chief chocolatier at the firm Oliver Shorts stated that the reduced barriers to trade created by the FTAs will enable his company to restart shipments.

"One of the big barriers to entry are the costs involved in getting the goods in, and this will allow us to help any potential distributor margins and permit the product to be a more viable opportunity in the market," he said.

The UK's Society and Motor Manufacturers and Traders has also welcomed the deal, noting that as well as opening up tariff-free access to a significantly-growing market, it will also allow the automotive sector to diversify its supply chains for critical components such as batteries.