Is the former DEFRA Secretary telling porkie pies to cater to the Big Agriculture lobby?

Graham Charles Lear
4 min readNov 16, 2022

Farmers beef about the Aussie trade deal, but the EU sells us 150,000 tons/yr with no tariffs. How does that help our farmers?

The UK already imports massive quantities of beef from the EU — why not buy from Australia instead?

By the way, for those that say it comes all that way frozen or chilled so does the Beef from the EU.

On Monday in the Commons, MPs debated the new Australian and New Zealand free trade deals (FTAs). MPs from farming communities rushed to condemn the new FTAs, but none of them mentioned just how much food the UK has to import for the public’s consumption because we can’t produce enough ourselves. Well, fancy that who would have thought it?

Today let us all set the record straight, particularly for the former DEFRA Secretary George Eustice MP who represents a farming constituency and whose family were farmers. He was vocal in Parliament on Monday and subsequently on the BBC. The National Farmers Union (NFU) might also wish to read this.

To keep this report short and punchy I will focus purely on beef, as this was the main topic in the Commons debate on Monday.

OK let's take a look at the facts as facts are important in life

What’s the beef? UK farming can’t produce enough to satisfy the demand

1. The need for beef imports

  1. UK farmers could only supply 70% of the UK consumer’s appetite for beef in 2021

2. The rest had to be imported from the EU and the world

3. This follows decades of the UK being part of the EU’s ‘Common Agricultural Policy

2. The continuing massive supply of beef from the EU

  1. In 2021 the EU sold us over 150,000 tons of fresh and frozen beef products

3. The Republic of Ireland supplied 81.7% of this

4. These exports to the UK were tariff-free for the EU, as a result of the ‘Trade & Cooperation Agreement’

5. And this is a big ONE. There were no complaints from the NFU, Big Agriculture, or MPs NOT ONE, let that sink in, NOT ONE COMPLAINT

3. The EU also sends live cattle to the UK for slaughter

  • On top of the above, the EU sent us 9,274 tons of their live cattle for slaughter in the UK

4. And here is the KILLER.

As usual, the EU does far better than the UK in this arrangement

  • EU beef exports to the UK: € 915,894,288
  • UK beef exports to EU: € 248,440,269

EU’s surplus for beef trade with the UK in 2021 was €667,454,019 (2/3rds of a billion euros)

[Sources, YES sources. EU Commission statistics agency | DEFRA ]

What the former DEFRA Secretary said — and the simple answer to his claims.

“We did not actually need to give Australia nor New Zealand full liberalisation of beef and sheep. It was not in our economic interests to do so.

“And neither Australia nor New Zealand had anything to offer in return for such a grand concession.”

  • The Rt Hon George Eustice MP, House of Commons, Mon 14 Nov 2022

In reply, a Member of the Government’s Trade and Agriculture Commission commented:

“So, as far as Eustice is concerned, for the UK to gain greater and easier access for exporting machinery, vehicles, electrical machinery, pharmaceutical products, optical equipment, and plastics is worth nothing — in comparison to conceding advantages in importing beef and lamb?

“It is also important to point out the UK did not fully liberalise beef and sheep trade in either the Australian or the New Zealand trade agreements. UK imports of both of these commodities will retain high tariffs and tight quotas for up to 16 years. I am surprised that Eustice doesn’t know this.”

- Catherine McBride, Economist, Member of the Government’s Trade and Agriculture Commission, Tues 15 Nov 2022

For decades the EU has taken full advantage of the lucrative market for beef in the United Kingdom. It has sold us far more than we sold them.

Following the preferential terms, the EU secured under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) prior to Brexit, this trade has carried on, tariff-free for the EU.

Before automatically attacking the new free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand, I suggest that MPs and the Big Agriculture lobby of the NFU and large land owners might wish to turn their attention to the TCA trade deal with the EU.

Australia and New Zealand must wait more than a decade until they can benefit from the new trade arrangements for agricultural products with the UK. This was done to allow UK farmers time to prepare.

Conversely, the EU was allowed to carry on as if Brexit had never happened.

Sources: Eurostat | DEFRA

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.