UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss MP went on to BBC last Sunday morning (April 25) to confirm that a UK / Australia trade deal may well be wrapped up within a couple of months.
This seems like an inordinately short period of time, given that the parties involved only started talking to each other less than a year ago.
But what’s important about all of this, from an Irish perspective, is the confirmation that the envisaged deal will involve food products to a significant extent.
Truss gave an assurance that Australian farmers would have to meet the same production and welfare standards as those of their British counterparts, where directly competing products are concerned. The issue of lamb imports into the UK was then discussed at some length.
Time will tell if all of this will come to pass.
UK / Australia trade deal as template
The reality is that the deal struck between the UK and Australia will act as a template for other trading arrangements that Britain would like to broker with other countries around the world.
Australian lamb exports into the UK would do little, I think, to directly hamper the prospects of Irish sheep farmers. But beef imports from Brazil most certainly would.
And it is in this context that the issues of animal production and welfare standards come into play… big time.
If Brazil is absolutely forced by the UK authorities to export only beef that is in line with the farm quality assurance standards set by the Red Tractor organisation, then the actual quantities of meat that the South American beef giant could place on the British market would be relatively small.
However, if such a requirement is conveniently overlooked by London, then the potential for large quantities of cheap Brazilian beef to come onto the British market is immense. Such a scenario would, most definitely, hurt the Irish beef industry.
In my opinion, the UK / Australian trade deal is a harbinger for what might follow. If London sticks to its word and ensures no disparity in production standards, where food imports are concerned, all remains rosy in the garden.
If this is not the case, then trouble might well be looming for Irish agriculture.
The easiest way to get a sense of this is to gauge the public utterances of the National Farmers Union (NFU). If ‘cheap’ Australian lamb is coming into Britain, that organisation will be the first to tell the rest of the world about it!