The trade deal with Australia will act as a “stepping stone” to a wider trans-Pacific accord, Liz Truss said as she rejected farmers’ concerns about the agreement.
The international trade secretary said the UK is looking at parts of the world where growth is expected in future as she defended the deal, which is forecast to add just 0.01% to 0.02% to the size of the economy.
She insisted there will be opportunities for British farmers to sell produce into the new markets and “we’ve got to stop being defensive”.
On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, she was challenged about the relatively small economic benefits of the deal compared with the estimated 4% long-term hit to UK productivity as a result of Brexit.
“The numbers you are talking about, that is a static analysis of the world as it is now,” Truss said.
“What we are seeing is a huge rise in trade with the Asia-Pacific market.
“Australia is important in itself – we are likely to see a 30% increase in trade with Australia by 2030.”
She added it is “also a stepping stone to the trans-Pacific partnership which is a major deal with 11 countries in the Pacific region, population 500 million, and what we are seeing is that is a very fast-growing part of the world where there is huge demand for British goods”.
The UK wants to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership with countries including Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
Farmers and animal welfare campaigners are concerned the deal with Australia will lead to cheaper imports undercutting British meat which is produced to higher standards.
NFU president Minette Batters said: “We will need to know more about any provisions on animal welfare and the environment to ensure our high standards of production are not undermined by the terms of this deal.”
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood warned it is legal in Australia to mutilate the rear end of sheep, while chicken can be washed with chlorine and almost half of cattle are given growth hormones.
Truss told Sky News there is a 15-year transition period before Australia has quota-free access to the UK.
“Australia mainly sell into the Asia-Pacific markets, which have much higher prices than here in the UK and Europe,” she said.
“But what the deal will also enable us to do is get more opportunities for our farmers in those markets like Vietnam, like those other markets, where there is growing demand for British beef and lamb.
“So we need to look outwards. I think we’ve got to stop being defensive and look at where the opportunities are.”
She told the BBC that hormone-injected beef remains banned from the UK and “there is virtually no trade in products like chickens because it is so far away”.
Truss added: “Australia has some very high animal welfare standards and in fact in some cases they are higher standards than many EU countries, where we already have a quota-free, tariff-free deal.”
At Prime Minister’s Questions, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the government’s “disastrous” deal has “thrown Scottish farmers and crofters under their Brexit bus”.