July 27, 2022
“I have negotiated dozens of trade deals”, candidate for PM Liz Truss said in a debate on BBC TV this week.
Since Brexit, the UK has rolled over existing EU deals covering 63 countries. It is not true to say that Truss negotiated these - they were already in place, negotiated by the EU, and have simply been allowed to continue after Brexit. So far, Truss has negotiated a handful of trade deals. These are potentially very bad for Scotland - but that is not being reported fairly.
The UK government is offering open access to Scottish markets for intensive, low-welfare farmers, echoing ‘The Great Betrayal’" of the 1920s, which decimated Scottish agriculture. They have signed these deals on Scotland's behalf without consent or consultation with Scotland's elected representatives.
Promises over “safeguards” for Scottish farmers have been broken - with no scrutiny
Instead, over the last year, BBC Scotland and other Unionist media outlets have given space to vague promises that there will be safeguards for Scottish producers. But these safeguards have not materialised and that is being brushed under the carpet without scrutiny.
Truss trade deals - four not dozens
Liz Truss’ government has so far negotiated just four new trade deals, covering six countries. These are with Japan, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, Australia and New Zealand. But there are fears these are the gateway to the UK Government signing more destructive and desperate deals.
Deals with New Zealand and Australia threaten Scottish food producers
Trade deals with New Zealand and Australia will see quotas for tariff-free lamb and other produce increased sharply over the next 15 years before it becomes a tariff-free, quota-free free for all. Because Australia and New Zealand don't work to the same standards on climate, environment and welfare and because they farm more intensively that allows them to potentially undercut Scottish farmers. While the idea of cheap imports may seem attractive in the short term, in the long term it threatens to damage the Scottish food-producing sector, food security and the wider economy.
There was anger in the House of Commons last week when the UK Government forbade Parliament from discussing the terms of the Australian trade deal before it is ratified - despite an earlier promise by Liz Truss that it would face Parliamentary scrutiny.
Scottish MP Drew Hendry said the Government’s own research showed that Australia’s lower standards on deforestation, animal welfare and climate lets it produce cheaper food that will undercut Scottish produce.
The Scottish Farmer said the deal “offers nothing but pain” for Scotland’s farmers and crofters. Scottish NFU president Martin Kennedy said: “Our fears that the process adopted by the UK Government in agreeing the Australia deal would set a dangerous precedent going forward have been realised…
“This latest deal offers virtually nothing to Scottish farmers and crofters in return but risks undermining our valuable lamb, beef, dairy and horticultural sectors by granting access to large volumes of imported goods. As with the Australian deal, a cap on tariff-free imports is merely a slow journey to allow NZ, a major exporter of food and drink, unfettered access to food and drink UK markets."
But Scottish food producers’ woes are not being reported by the mainstream UK media.
A clip of New Zealand TV contrasted the reaction of “jubilant Kiwi farmers” with the despair of those facing unfair competition from producers meeting lower environmental and welfare standards has been widely shared on social media.
People find it hard to believe that the NZ media is offering more coverage of the downside of the deal than the UK. It said: “The deal will see Kiwi meat imported without tariffs, and UK farmers say they get nothing in return. They fear it will change their businesses dramatically.’ UK farmers told the news show that they feel as if they are the “sacrificial lambs” of the deal.
Sustainable business advisor Brendan May commented: “New Zealand television is completely mystified by the amazing Brexit trade deal Liz Truss keeps boasting about. They can’t understand why she would want to make British farmers poorer and theirs richer. Even the winning side can’t fathom it.”
The deals echo ‘the great betrayal” of the 1920s which decimated Scottish agriculture
Those with a knowledge of Scottish history will remember “the great betrayal” of 1921 when the UK Government abandoned support for agriculture and fishing - believing it could be replaced by cheap imports from the Empire. In the following decade, food production collapsed and Scotland lost 8% of its population (compared to 5% in England) due to emigration by desperate people, many of whom simply abandoned their crofts and farms.
Scottish agriculture is already a big loser from Brexit - it is gradually losing EU funding from the Common Agricultural Policy, which moves some of the cost of food production from the consumer to the tax payer. The UK’s replacement scheme will be far less generous. The loss of easy access to EU markets, and the end of free movement of labour is also damaging Scotland’s food producers.
The Scottish Government has criticised the UK Government’s level of engagement with the devolved governments. There has been no consultation on the negotiation process, nor on the crucial detail about tariffs and goods market access on any of the deals which the UK government has negotiated.
Unlike Quebec, which is able to scrutinise and ratify Canada’s international trade deals, Scotland has no voice. The Internal Markets Act means the UK government can make any deal it likes in Scotland’s name, without consultation or consent.
Scotland is being let down by the media which is failing to report both sides of the story
The media is supposed to serve the people - but Scotland’s Unionist media is failing to report on the people who are being harmed by these trade deals, to scrutinise politicians’ promises, or to consider the potential for long-term harm to Scotland's interests.