Since we joined the European Economic Community back in 1973, the United Kingdom has been unable to pursue our own global trading agenda. Now it seems this lack of experience in the negotiations by public figures – and the media interference – is threatening to derail 'Global Britain' with a new form of 'Project Fear', argues Jayne Adye.

For the past two weeks, with attention focused on the proposed new trade deal with Australia, a level of hysteria has returned to Westminster surrounding the possibility of opening up the UK market to imports of beef and lamb from Australia. Naturally we all want to see the UK farming industry supported, and not to have to face unfair competition from artificially low prices or lower standards. However, this does not mean we should allow ourselves to be scared into abandoning a deal with Australia.

As of now, Australian meat imports make up only 1% of all meat imports into this country and roughly 0.3% of all meat consumption in this country. This is partly because of the high tariffs currently in place – however, it is also because the demand is simply not there at the moment. UK consumers have historically preferred to buy British produce when they can, and as a result many UK supermarkets will only stock British beef (Morrisons go even further to promise that all the meat they sell is British).

Of course, removing all tariff barriers on imports should cause an increase in trade. However, looking at UK imports from Australia prior to our joining the EU, Australian meat only made up between 4% and 5% of our total meat imports. This does not signal an overwhelming wave of 'cheap goods' coming here which we have heard talked about in recent days throughout the media.

This does not permit opening up the barriers entirely and remove all restrictions on goods from Australia and elsewhere, as this would simply not be in our interests. The International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss has said bans on hormone-treated beef and other meat must stay in place because such products would not be acceptable to British consumers. We value our food standards very highly, and we should never compromise on those standards to make any negotiations easier.

With some protections in place, I believe UK farmers should be confident in the trust the public have in British produce. However, the farmers who should be more concerned about competition from abroad are foreign farmers, especially those from inside the EU who will have to compete with Australian products. For example, meat imports from Ireland currently make up 25% of all our meat imports and 60% of beef imports, and with supermarkets in Great Britain not stocking Irish beef, most of these imports are cheaper cuts, mainly used in food processing. As a result, if there is a cheaper alternative from Australia of equal quality, then it will be logical for food processing companies to replace their imported Irish meat with Australian meat.

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After the way the EU has behaved over the last 5 years, trying to undermine every potential benefit of Brexit, I would much rather eat good quality Australian meat than meat from the EU. My preference will always be to buy British, but if my alternative is to support the EU which sees us as an enemy, or to support goods from a Commonwealth ally with whom we have good relations, then I know what I would put in my shopping basket!

However, stories of UK farmers going under because of a tariff and quota free deal seem to be far more popular for the media. As a result, it seems the sensible realities are being ignored, and 'Project Fear' is creeping back again. The truth is perhaps the UK farming industry needs some competition to encourage innovation and fresh thinking. Decades of protectionism inside the EU with the Common Agricultural Policy handing out subsidies to many of the richest farmers and landowners has left our agricultural industry in a rut. Competition may bring some hardship for those unwilling (or perhaps unable, for many reasons) to adapt, but it will bring huge opportunities for those who embrace it.

If all of this means UK consumers end up with better products and a greater variety at a reduced cost, then this will be part of us embracing global expansion. The Government needs to support British farming while this transition is taking place. But more importantly the Prime Minister needs to dig his head out of the sand to get things going, instead of simply donning muddy boots for photo-opportunities!

I would remind everyone we have had a tariff and quota free deal with the EU for decades, even though standards are much lower in some member states and cheaper products are available. Yet UK farmers have survived. In fact, they pushed vigorously for an EU trade deal to be continued, along with many advocating our staying in the EU. So why is a tariff and quota free deal with the EU – which is right on our borders – more acceptable than a similar deal with the much smaller market of Australia?

People should also remember, despite all this focus on meat imports, a trade deal with Australia is far more varied. It also ends tariffs on Australian wine and the large amount of minerals we import from Australia, and going the other way it ends tariffs on UK exports to Australia, including our own food and drink and pharmaceutical products. We must always remember to look at the bigger picture and the opportunities created instead of getting bogged down with complaints by those with a vested interest in the status quo.

There will undoubtedly be concerns about an unlimited trade deal with Australia – and indeed any with other country – so clearly protections need to be put in place. However, caution and awareness of the realities must not be pushed into the extreme 'Project Fear' narrative we have experienced for the last 5 years.

If we do not push back against these messages and understand that changes need to be made, then we will end up with few new trade deals, and still tied into the EU's backwards protectionist approach. This will kill the ambition of Global Britain, making our successful fight to Get Britain Out of the EU a very hollow victory.

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