No animal welfare barriers expected in UK free trade deal

Terry Sim, June 25, 2021

Sheep Producers Australia CEO Stephen Crisp

AUSTRALIA’S peak sheep meat and wool bodies believe the nation’s producers will not be subject to regulatory barriers on animal welfare grounds under the proposed Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement.

The UK’s National Sheep Association is seeking adoption of equivalent standards on animal welfare and the environment under the FTA and Sheep Central has been told UK lobby groups want specific measures restricting imports based on production practices.

However, Sheep Producers of Australia chief executive officer Stephen Crisp believed Australian sheep producers could be confident their lamb, mutton or wool will not be at a trade disadvantage in the UK on the basis of whether they do or don’t mules their sheep and their lambs, or do or don’t use pain relief for mulesing, castration and tail-docking.

“Yes, producers can be assured that they will not be at a disadvantage,” he said.

“If companies wish to brand their product based on their own certifications that will be their own commercial decision.”

WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the body would not support any FTA that required equivalency in animal welfare standards, given Australia’s unique production system and strongly lobbied for acknowledgement of standards relating to welfare.

“While individual brands or companies may set their own product requirements that have standards that are considered higher than our animal welfare regulations, as is the case now, there will be no regulatory barriers for Australian product on the grounds of animal welfare,” she said.

In-principle provisions point to co-operation

An RSPCA Australia spokesperson said at this stage the animal welfare provisions in the in-principle agreement are largely about government-to-government cooperation on animal welfare.

“There has not been any confirmation of specific measures restricting imports based on production practices, but this is precisely what the various interest groups are lobbying for in the UK as the detail to the principles is developed over the coming months.”

The in-principle Australia-UK FTA agreement on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website states that Australia and the UK have agreed to the inclusion of provisions in the free trade agreement that facilitate bilateral co-operation on animal welfare issues.

These include:

appropriate provisions around non-derogation from respective levels of animal welfare protections for the purpose of encouraging trade and investment between the UK and Australia

provisions that affirm Australia and the UK’s right to regulate on animal welfare and the right of each of Australia and the UK to establish its own policies and priorities for the protection of animal welfare

provisions committing Australia and the UK to cooperate in relevant international fora on areas of mutual interest, including to promote development of the best possible animal welfare practices

an Animal Welfare Working Group to provide a forum for ongoing cooperation and initiatives in areas of mutual interest, review of animal welfare developments and to promote high animal welfare practices

appropriate provisions recognising the importance of high levels of animal welfare protection and non-regression

appropriate provisions on cooperation on combatting antimicrobial resistance including bilaterally and in relevant international fora on areas of mutual interest.

Each country to handle animal welfare ‘as they see fit’

Mr Crisp said the mention of animal welfare in the FTA “enshrines the rights of each country to handle all regulatory matters as they see fit.”

“It is good that both countries will set a forum for the exchange of information that will enable a sharing of skills and research that can assist production systems from each country, but there is no regulation that can be imposed from either country,” he said.

“The fact is that both the UK and Australia have very different climates and production systems which require different solutions to the challenges both our livestock sectors face.

“Cooperation is always welcome, as some technologies may be adaptable between the nations as they are developed,” he said.

“It is quite right, however that neither party should be able to impose regulations upon the other, as both countries strive for the best animal welfare outcomes in their production systems.”

FTA must not detract from capacity to adopt appropriate standards

Ms Hall said WoolProducers has been involved with the government to industry briefings on the UK FTA, along with standalone meetings with DFAT and Department of Agriculture Water and the Environment staff, including those based in the UK on the issue and the provision of a submission into the process.

“WoolProducers key point in these discussions was that the Australian Government must not ratify a A-UK FTA that detracts from Australia’s capacity to adopt and maintain standards on animal health and welfare, biosecurity, environment, or sustainability practices and regulation that are appropriate to Australian conditions.

“Australia upholds high standards across these policy settings that are based on unbiased scientific evidence and supported through government regulation and/or industry assurance schemes,” she said.

“The inclusion of the provision to affirm both Australia and the UK’s right to regulate on animal welfare and to establish our own polices and priorities for the protection of animal welfare, in the in-principle agreement demonstrates that there is acknowledgment from both governments that there are significant differences in the geographic, environmental and climatic conditions that Australian and UK animals are raised.”

NSA urges greater FTA scrutiny

The National Sheep Association this week warned again that without proper scrutiny into the terms of the FTA damaging consequences for the UK sheep industry will be difficult to avoid.

The NSA urged UK ministers to heed the warnings of UK farmers and consumer groups before the in-principle agreement is converted into legal text.

The in-principle agreement outlined Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs), which for lamb will more than triple immediately from roughly 8000 tonnes annually to 25,000, and then grow over ten years to 125,000 tonnes, which at current consumption rates is equivalent to more than 40  percent of the UK’s total sheep meat needs.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said the NSA warned from day one that the UK sheep sector could end up being the sacrificial lamb for the benefit of other industries in a trade deal and Ministers could still step in to ensure this doesn’t happen.

“We should be looking at carcase equivalent volumes rather than the option to fill quota with a limited range of cuts, and we should also consider seasonal limits to avoid clashing with our peak production months.

“UK sheep farmers also need assurances that in case of market disruption quotas could be halted,” he said.

“NSA is also firmly against segregated supply chains where certain lambs may fit our requirements while the remainder of the industry still continues to benefit from cost saving practices that don’t meet our ideals.”

The NSA said it welcomed the deal having a dedicated chapter specifically on animal welfare, including measures recognising the importance of high levels of animal welfare protection and non-regression.

“However, according to the Animal Protection Index which ranks countries on their commitment to protect animals in its legislation, improve animal welfare and recognise animal sentience, the UK has a B rating for welfare standards, whilst Australia fairs less well with a D rating.

“This is an important factor for UK society as well as the UK Government and one that needs to set clear expectations aligned with the UK world-leading standards,” the body said.

Mr Stocker said the in-principle agreement sets out in principle the jointly agreed terms to be included in the FTA.

“It should not itself be assumed to be the final treaty commitments contained in the FTA, and we now need to take every opportunity to identify and build in safeguards to protect British sheep farming.”


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  1. Marianne Mclean-Atkins, June 27, 2021

    Not addressing animal welfare is dangerous indeed. Surely the past few years have shown that it is the consumer who is putting pressure on the brands and retailers to open up their supply chains and that transparency shines a very significant light on welfare, ethics, and leadership. To continue to ignore it at your own peril…
    Not so many years ago a video went viral showing poor treatment to angora rabbits. Within hours, every brand in the UK stopped orders and tore angora garments from their shelves. It has never resurfaced.
    The market in China is vitally important to every country that wants to trade goods. It is huge in scale, an has the power of processing and the expertise that goes with it, but it is not the solution to every answer. Single market risk aside, it has its own agenda, and whilst that is great if you are part of it, relying solely on it loses diversity and misses the point of competitive advantage that innovation creates across countries within the same industry.
    I do not have a farming background. I do not have the experience to argue aside. I sit on the outside from a product design perspective and having 20 years of working with international customers. They are the ones in the driving seat, not governments. Like sheep, they will follow what gives them the best deal and Boris will not be there long enough to care. Does Australia just sit and watch, as this is a perfect opportunity for local UK growers, New Zealand and South Africa all ready and equipped to chip away at the market share?

    • Jim Gordon, June 28, 2021

      Marianne McLean-Atkins, what a privilege to read such comments. Full transparency. Tim Marwedel from Schneiders talked about it in a recent webinar. What a benefit to us that you haven’t had a farming background and have spent so long involved in the industry. It seems to me that you see things very clearly. As a wool grower, I thank you for making the effort. It is good to hear genuine comments from outside the industry.

  2. Jim Gordon, June 27, 2021

    All this talk between groups and governments is great; however, if the UK farmers grab the welfare groups and start demonstrating outside Harrods on what we do to our sheep meat — for example, mulesing — game over. I strongly urge the abattoirs to be able to separate meat from mulesed sheep and unmulesed sheep, in case the shit hits the fan in England. Then we won’t loose the market completely.
    Think about what is happening in Tasmania with the salmon industry. Once sniff that they are doing the wrong thing and most stop eating salmon. The public are very switched on and are ruthless.

    • Peter Small, June 27, 2021

      You are quite correct Jim Gordon. And our politicians and industry leaders just don’t get it. It will not be be intra-governmrnt regulations that lock us out of world markets, but informed consumers voting with their wallets.

  3. Peter Small, June 27, 2021

    Undoubtedly, the strong point of the Australian sheep export market is our wide diversity of markets across the globe. Whilst the increase in the UK quota from 8000 tonnes to 25,000 tonnes is welcome, it pails into insignificance besides our current annual exports of sheep meats to greater China of 150,890 tonnes.
    Asia, particularly east Asia is where the growth is centred. This is the growth area that our government trade negotiators should be concentrating their skills.

    Few Australians comprehend the capacity of the United Kingdom to produce grains, sheep meats, beef and dairy products. Agriculture in the United Kingdom has been hampered since the Second World War, firstly by British farm subsidies and then by European farm subsidies. These subsidies have impeded aggregation of farms into larger units to maximize productivity opportunities. Under Brexit, this is almost certainly to change. We must expect that the withdrawal of subsidies, whilst painful in the short term, will lead to a more productive and efficient agricultural system in the UK. This in my view will almost certainly place British sheep farmers in competition to us in our Asian markets, the ones we are currently neglecting. The Prime Minister of United Kingdom Boris Johnson recently pointed out to Welsh sheep farmers that “China is closer to Wales than New Zealand.”
    Currently an average 21kg dressed weight lamb in the UK is selling to the producer at 8GBP a kg. This compares with Australian producers receiving about A$8A/kg. Obviously it will not take a lot in currency movements nor other factors for Boris Johnson’s eye on the Chinese market to translate into orders for the Welsh sheep farmers. And this is where Mr Crisp is singing a song from the past.
    It will not be regulatory matters that lock Australia out of world markets, it will be the consumer’s perception of Australia’s regime of animal ethics, including mulesing and our environmental management; not withstanding the possibility of our treatment of indigenous peoples being added to make a trifecta.
    There are plenty of reasons why the UK may well become a preferred customer of China and Boris Johnson delivers to his Welsh constituents.

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