UK-Australia trade deal finalised, without new requirements on climate and nature

The text makes no explicit mentions of climate or nature

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan held a virtual meeting with Australian representatives late on Thursday (16 December), after the basic principles of the deal were agreed upon by Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison in London in June. It will still need to be scrutinised in Parliament in the New Year 2022.

The Government has touted the deal as a “gateway” to future trade with the Indo-Pacific region and a boost for the UK’s hopes of joining the CPTPP free trade pact between Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru and Chile. It has also emphasised that the deal is forecast to unlock £10.4bn of additional trade, in and of itself.

Following criticism from green groups back in June, the Government is also badging the new trade deal a boost for the international trade of renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and hydrogen electrolysers.

“This free trade agreement will make it easier for UK and Australian companies to export green technologies and expertise, speeding up the transition of both countries to our net-zero goals,” said RenewableUK’s chief executive Dan McGrail.

Australia has notably agreed to a 2050 net-zero target since June, but questions loom about its credibility, as Morrison is leaning towards emerging technologies and shying away from dramatically cutting fossil fuels. Moreover, Morrison declined to sign the G7 final communique from this year’s summit.

Poor green reaction

But several green groups have questioned the claims on cleantech and continue to ask why the UK has not pushed Australia for stronger environmental and animal welfare standards in agri-food sectors. WWF has claimed that Australia currently permits the use of “71 highly hazardous substances and thousands of pesticides banned in the UK” and has “the highest rate of deforestation in the OECD”.

WWF’s chief advisor on economics and development, Angela Francis, called the final text of the trade deal “an unwelcome Christmas present for farmers, food businesses and consumers who have been asking the UK government to ensure that trade deals don’t undermine the UK’s environmental and animal welfare standards. 

Francis said: “Agreeing zero tariff, zero quota access with Australia, a climate and nature laggard, is no way to deliver on the commitments the UK government made at COP26 to end deforestation in our supply chains and make the UK stronger, greener and more resilient. 

“It is not too late for the government to fix this and support sustainable farming at home and abroad. We need core standards for trade that can be set in UK law to apply to all food sold and would ensure minimum environmental standards are met no matter what deals are signed. The British public want the Government to deal with this – they have enough on their plates.”

Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven expressed the same sentiments. He said:  “The UK Government has just struck a trade deal with not only one of the world’s worst climate laggards but a country that’s been declared a deforestation hotspot.

“What people will want to know is whether this trade deal will stop beef from farms involved in destroying habitats for koalas and other endangered species from reaching our supermarket shelves.

“And whether Boris Johnson has used his clout to confirm a commitment to the Paris goal of keeping the global temperature rise to within 1.5C.”

The Liberal Democrats’ rural affairs spokesperson Tim Farron added: “The Conservatives make promises of transitions, but all that means is delaying the inevitable – our farming communities being undermined by imported food that is produced to lower standards of animal welfare and environmental protection.”

The trade deal announcement comes shortly after six supermarkets across Europe, including Sainsbury’s in the UK, announced plans to remove beef products from JBS, sourced from Brazil, from shelves.

The decision has been taken following an investigation from Mighty Earth and Reporter Brazil, documenting deforestation in supply chains. JBS this year announced a new strategy to eliminate all illegal Amazon deforestation from supply chains by 2025.

Sarah George

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