The environment and climate crisis have been sacrificed in the government’s rush to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia, warns a committee of Lords.
Ministers are criticized for not pushing for “ambitious” commitments to reduce carbon emissions – even as Canberra was given “generous” access to sell agricultural products in the UK.
The report raises fears that “deforested land” in Australia will be used to produce beef and cereals that will be shipped to the UK “in greater quantities”.
Goods produced “using pesticides banned in the UK” will be imported under the deal – the first with a new partner since the UK left the EU – according to the Lords International Agreements Committee.
It also doesn’t include any reference to “reducing or reviewing Australia’s dependence on coal”, although a later agreement with New Zealand does just that.
The committee also questions a government claim of no “significant” increase in the UK’s CO2 emissions – arguing that it rules out freight transport and lower Australian production standards.
The report comes after the House of Commons environment committee warned of farmers and food producers expected to lose nearly £300m from the demolition tariffs.
The Lords’ committee suggests that “speed of negotiations” took priority over “using the UK’s influence to negotiate better outcomes” on the environment.
It states: “Considering that the UK has granted Australia generous access to the agricultural market, it is unfortunate that the government has not pushed Australia for more ambitious commitments on climate change.”
Baroness Hayter, chairman of the committee, said: “There is a risk that this agreement could set a precedent for negotiations with countries, particularly with other major agricultural producers such as the US, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.
“We are asking the government to establish a clear policy against which future negotiations can be evaluated.”
It was revealed last year that the government secretly abandoned several climate pledges under pressure from Australia – causing embarrassment in the run-up to the Cop26 summit.
A binding section referencing the “Paris Agreement temperature targets” was deleted to get the deal “across the line”, a leaked email revealed.
Today’s report notes that the government forecasts a 0.08% increase in GDP by 2035, with the agreement with Australia.
He describes this as “quite a limited impact – albeit a welcome one” and calls the claims of broader benefits for small businesses and professionals “speculative”, saying they “should not be overstated”.
Concern is also raised about the failure to share information with decentralized governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The consultation must be “comprehensive and timely”, the committee says, calling for other UK nations to be “involved in the negotiations” in the future.
But the Department for International Trade (DIT) argued that the agreement “includes a chapter on the environment that goes beyond all other” Australian trade agreements.
“We were clear during the negotiations that we would not sacrifice quality for speed, which is why there was no deadline to complete the free trade agreement,” a spokesperson said.