UK Government set for court challenge over environmental impact of Australia trade deal

Environmental campaign group Feedback has applied for the court hearing because the trade agreement – due to take effect this May –  could enable Australian beef, lamb and mutton and dairy producers to undercut British farmers on environmental standards.

The High Court this week agreed to proceed with an initial hearing. Law firm Leigh Day will represent Feedback.

Feedback is challenging the trade deal specifically due to the UK Government’s lack of provision of information on its likely emissions impact, stating that most meat and dairy production in Australia is more emissions-intensive than in the UK.

One major Australian cattle company is foreseeing a tenfold increase in beef exports to the UK as a result of the deal, Feedback noted.

Feedback will additionally argue that the UK Government may be breaching its legal, international climate and biodiversity obligations.

Feedback’s executive director Carina Millstone said: “Rather than relying on flimsy environmental impact assessments, it is imperative that the government truly assess the climate impacts of its trade deals, so that trade supports the curbing of emissions at home and abroad, rather than drive further catastrophic warming. We look forward to hearing how the government will meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement in this trade deal, and all others.”

The UK Government has stated that it does not comment on live legal proceedings.

It bears noting that the UK Government is at the High Court this week as Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project lead a legal challenge to its overarching net-zero strategy.

Dietary changes and farmer livelihoods

There are also doubts about whether the UK-AUS deal could encourage increased meat and dairy consumption in the UK due to the provision of cheaper ingredients to supermarkets and the food service industry.

The UK Government’s climate advisors have recommended a 20% reduction in per-capita red meat and dairy production this decade as part of a broader package of measures to align food systems with the nation’s legally binding climate targets. Henry Dimbleby, in drawing up recommendations for the Food Strategy, called for a steeper 30% reduction.

Conservative politicians have staunchly opposed any measures to incentivise a shift to more plant-based diet, including taxes on red meat. However, they have done so partly on the argument of the need to support British farmers – something Feedback questions it is committed to given its flurry of post-Brexit trade deals covering meat and dairy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Environment Secretary Steve Barclay appeared at the National Farmers Union’s annual conference this week to pledge the Government’s intention to provide an additional £427m of grants to the agriculture sector this financial year.

Funding priorities include incentivising productivity, starting the first round of payments for nature conservation and restoration, and helping farmers to adopt “future-focussed technologies” such as digital automation systems.

WWF and the Soil Association urged Ministers to build on these measures with a more joined-up, long-term and strategic plan for sustainable food systems.

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