It has been a gloomy week on the sunlit uplands of sovereign Britain, as the benefits of our trade deal with New Zealand turn out to be every bit as massive as the Hobbits who roamed Kiwiland in Peter Jackson’s film series.
The good news is that the deal has defied low expectations, after the trade pact with Australia agreed earlier this year offered just a 0.35% jump for UK exports, with the Aussies benefiting by 2.2%.
The bad news is that it has defied those low expectations by being even worse than feared, giving New Zealand a chance to increase its exports to the UK fivefold while the upside for the British economy is a rise of 0.01%. That’s not even scratching the surface of the 6.5% fall in exports to the EU since Brexit, and in any case, the Aussie agreement has now stalled.
British sheep farmers would be happy to see this new pact go the same way. It threatens to flood the UK market with intensively produced cheap lamb, while letting British producers go to the wall.
Liz Truss’ latest triumph has been hailed as “a disgrace” and “completely at odds with everything the government has promised to do to safeguard our farmers and protect UK consumers,” by former Tory agriculture minister Lord Deben, while the NFU Cymru says it offers Welsh sheep farmers “no tangible benefits that we can see”.
You’d expect the government that agreed such a deal to be pretty sheepish about it. But not international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who declared: “I’m not at all concerned that my Northumberland farmers will be at risk. Different seasons, because it’s the other side of the world.
“When I’m eating my Northumberland lamb at Easter, I wouldn’t be eating New Zealand lamb, but I might now be able to have some lovely New Zealand lamb for my Sunday lunch in autumn.”
Alas for Anne-Marie, the British sheep farming industry operates year-round and the prime time for grass-fed British lamb is in the autumn. Oh, and British lamb can be stored year-round in any freezer – except, of course, ones the prime minister happens to be hiding in.