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From the editor: Time to shine a light on the true impact of trade deals

The sun has been shining in recent weeks, but judging by Tuesday’s announcement on a UK-Australia trade deal, it seems the light has yet to penetrate the windows of Number 10 or the Department for International Trade.

From the perspective of a journalist, the work of Government can often seem like a cloak and dagger operation, with officials and Ministers shrouding policy development in secrecy.

 

That feeling has only been made stronger this week, as key details of the access Australian farmers will get to the UK market were published not by our own Government, but in a press release from the Australian Trade Minister.

 

And we still have no idea how the UK’s animal welfare or environmental standards will be protected in this deal.

 

It is hard to imagine a situation in which the UK Government would not make this clear if it was good news for our farmers, given the massive publicity which has surrounded the issue over recent years – though of course, you have to allow for the possibility that this is just poor communication.

For too long, Ministers have kept up the pretence that free trade is a win-win, never acknowledging any possible downsides.

 

Pro-free trade, libertarian think-tankers are more honest about the situation.

 

Kristian Niemietz, head of political economy at the IEA, for example, recently suggested that it would be ‘stupid’ to farm here, and ‘clever’ to farm in Australia and Canada, which have the benefit of economies of scale.

 

His clear implication was that farms should go bust in the UK because it makes ‘economic sense’.

 

We are never going to get that level of candour from Ministers or MPs, because quite frankly, it would be political suicide.

 

But they do owe it to the farming community to be honest about the trade-offs in the deals being negotiated.

 

At the very least, this would spark a debate about the direction of travel and allow mitigation measures to be put in place where necessary.

 

We can only hope that the sun keeps on shining, and some of those rays start making their way into Whitehall.

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