Labour has warned Liz Truss against signing a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia before there is sufficient parliamentary scrutiny.
Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry urged the trade minister to come to parliament to face questions about the offer she has made to Australia and what it will mean for farmers.
“The first proper debate on this deal should not take place only after it has been signed,” she said in a letter.
Thornberry said there are “genuine and deeply-felt concerns” among MPs about the impact of the deal on farmers and the precedent it will set for future trade talks.
She has set out seven questions for the trade secretary, including why a “trigger safeguard” is not in place to protect against a surge in imports, and whether any Australian exports to the UK could be produced to standards illegal in this country.
Defending the proposals, Truss said there will be a “very long transition” for farmers to adjust to competition from Australia under the terms of the proposed free trade deal.
The international trade secretary said she is “fully confident” that British agriculture will be able to compete when the expected deal is signed with Canberra.
She indicated that tariff-free and quota-free trade will be allowed under the deal following reports of a cabinet rift over the protections that will be offered for British farmers.
“UK beef is very competitive and we are already exporting it to markets around the world,” she told LBC Radio.
“So I am fully confident that our farmers will be able to compete.
“Currently the EU have tariff-free, quota-free access to the UK and they are a much bigger beef producer than Australia so we already import over 200,000 tonnes of beef from the EU.
“So what we are talking about is, in the long term – so this is not going to happen quickly, there will be a very long transition period – allowing Australia the same kind of access the EU already has.”
Officials have stressed that any changes to the tariff regime will be phased in over a period of up to 15 years, giving farmers time to adapt to the new trading conditions.
However, that has done little to allay the concerns of farmers who fear they could be wiped out if there is complete trade liberalisation.
Truss said a deal with Australia will open the doors to the wider Asia-Pacific region “where prices are higher for products like beef and lamb” and “this is an overall opportunity for British farmers”.
She said: “We have banned hormone-injected beef. Hormone-injected beef will not be allowed in the UK, full stop.”