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The Daily Telegraph​ online has reported that international trade secretary Liz Truss will today (21 May) speak with Australian trade minister Dan Tehan with the aim of agreeing a free trade deal within three weeks​. Other national newspapers were expecting a trade deal to be announced imminently.

Some reports suggest the Government may be planning to phase-in zero tariffs over several years to give farmers time to adjust.

Negotiations have reached fever pitch after prime minister Boris Johnson chaired a meeting with senior cabinet colleagues to discuss the terms of the deal and its impact on the UK’s agriculture sector.

Mark Lynch, partner at corporate finance house Oghma Partners believed UK farmers’ fear of competition was understandable. Australia’s cattle herds were, on average, twice the size of UK herds and sheep flocks were 6.4 times bigger, he said.

Economics dictates that UK farmers are at a scale disadvantage and already marginal producers, such as upland sheep farmers, will logically inevitably suffer,” ​he continued.

“The question for farmers is do they trust the Government to subsidise their livelihoods via direct payments if the Government goes full bore at liberalisation and cheaper chops for UK consumers?

Reliability of promises

“Given the current experience of the UK shellfish industry and Northern Ireland’s consumer troubles with the Irish Sea trade border, it seems understandable they may fear the reliability of any UK Government promises around a UK/Australian oven-ready trade deal.”

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