The UK and Australia have signed a “landmark” trade deal which will cut tariffs on imports of wine and surfboards and make it easier for young Britons to work Down Under.
The deal, announced by prime ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison in June, has now been finalised at a virtual signing ceremony.
But the agreement, the first to be negotiated from scratch since Brexit, is expected to add little to economic growth in the long run while critics have warned about the impact on British farmers and questioned its commitments on tackling climate change.
Official estimates of the impact of a deal have previously suggested that in the long run, it would produce an increase of between 0.01% and 0.02% of gross domestic product (GDP) – a measure of the size of the economy.
This is partly because Australia accounts for only around 1.7% of UK exports and 0.7% of imports and because tariffs on most UK-Australia trade are already low.
Shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said Labour supported a free-trade deal with Australia but would scrutinise it very carefully.
“Notable from the outset is that the Government ‘list of benefits’ contains no mention of climate targets or the impact of the removal of import tariffs on UK agriculture,” he said.
Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman Tim Farron said: “This trade deal fails to protect our farmers in the long term.”
Farming leaders have previously raised concerns about the impact of tariff-free imports from Australia hitting UK producers.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the deal “poses a threat to working people while contributing almost nothing to our economy” because there was “no effective means to enforce fundamental labour rights” or protect migrant workers from exploitation.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “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.”
Dr Nick Palmer, Head of Compassion in World Farming UK, said: “Compassion in World Farming is extremely disappointed and deeply concerned that the UK Government has now signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia that fails to protect UK animal welfare standards. It means British farmers will be exposed to competition from Australian imports of meat, eggs and dairy produced through inhumane production standards. These intensive farming methods cause sustained suffering to animals and, through massive overuse of antibiotics, could result in real risk to human health too.
“The UK Government has repeatedly said that our animal welfare standards will not be weakened after leaving the EU. However, this deal proves otherwise. The weak wording in this agreement must not be repeated in future trade deals, with countries like the US, Canada and India, which are likely to be signed in the future. To ensure that this deal does not become a precedent, we also urge the Government to develop a set of core standards that would need to be met in order for imports of certain products to be permitted.”