Scottish Food and drink organisations have written an open letter to the UK International Trade Secretary expressing concern that trade deal negotiations with Australia are being rushed. 

Signatories have accused the UK Government of avoiding scrutiny and consultation in the warning about how talks are being conducted. 

Minister Liz Truss has insisted British farmers have nothing to fear from a free trade deal with Australia, while suggesting a 5% whisky tariff may be scrapped in the first agreement drawn up from scratch since the UK left the EU.

However, critics of the proposed agreement fear the zero tariffs, zero quotas deal that the government in Canberra is demanding would see British farmers and businesses undercut by Australian rivals.

READ MORE: UK-Australia trade deal likened to Highland Clearances by Scottish MP

The 14 leading organisations in Scotland’s food and drink sector behind the open letter have also now expressed concern about the negotiations, suggesting it could set a bad precedent for future deals.

Food and drink is regarded as one of the fastest growing sectors in Scotland with a value of £15bn but the Scottish Government has no formal in the negotiations that are reserved for the UK Government. 

The letter, with signatories including the chief executives of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, the Scottish Seafood Association and Scotland Food & Drink, said: “We recognise the UK Government’s desire to move quickly to create new opportunities with nations beyond the EU.

“However we are concerned that the pace of these negotiations, particularly the free trade agreement with Australia, is too quick and denying the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny and consultation.

“Trade deals are complex and markets are sensitive; the impact of the Brexit deal has demonstrated this.

“The risks here are enormous for the whole food and drink supply chain and, in the absence of any formal impact assessment to suggest the contrary, we remain hugely concerned at the impact on sensitive sectors of our industry.”

HeraldScotland:

It added: “We welcome an ambitious trade policy if it will open new opportunities for our producers.

“That said, we should be under no illusion that the EU market remains the most important export market, with it being the destination of two-thirds of all food exports.

“The new trading arrangements post-Brexit with our biggest export market, on our doorstep, have made this market more costly, complex and high risk to supply to.”

The trade deal has raised concerns with farmers across the UK, who are worried that cheap imports of beef and lamb could see the demand for their home-grown produce dwindle. 

Others say they are worried about inferior products, such as hormone-injected beef coming to the UK's supermarkets - a claim the Government denies and says hormone-injected beef would never be allowed to be imported to the country. 

Ian Blackford, SNP's Westminster leader has said Scotland’s farmers and crofters would be disproportionately affected by such a  deal, with the country’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors particularly at risk.

READ MORE: SNP urge Scottish Secretary to fight back or resign over Australia trade deal

Elaborating on the worries caused by the potential trade deal, Scotland Food & Drink chief executive James Withers said: “As a food and farming industry we want to be ambitious for global trade. The future of our sector relies on it, and international sales of Scottish food and drink are already worth over £6 billion in a normal trading year.

“However, if we rush trade deals through, without any serious scrutiny and no engagement with industry and other experts, we can harm businesses, communities, the environment and the UK’s international reputation.

“Frankly, the process behind the Australian negotiations is cause for concern.

“We want to work collaboratively with UK Government on trade but that is very difficult to do when everything happens behind closed doors.

“We need a UK trade policy that not only protects the high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards here, but acts as a force for their development globally.

“The importance of the UK-Australian deal goes beyond the relative value to both nations; it could set the framework for all future trade deals.

“So we need to get this right because the price of failure is too high.”

The letter has been signed by:

  • James Withers, chief executive at Scotland Food & Drink
  • Scott Walker, chief executive at NFU Scotland
  • Alan Clarke, chief executive at Quality Meat Scotland
  • Jen Craig, chair at National Sheep Association Scotland
  • Jimmy Buchan, chief executive at Scottish Seafood Association
  • Tim Bailey, chief executive at SAOS
  • Patrick Krause, chief executive at Scottish Crofting Federation
  • Alan McNaughton, president at Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers
  • Martin Reid, director for Scotland at Road Haulage Association
  • Colin Smith chief executive at Scottish Wholesalers Association
  • Neil Wilson, executive director at Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland
  • Andy McGowan, managing director at Scottish Pig Producers
  • Shelagh Hancock, chief executive at First Milk
  • Archie Gibson, executive director at Agrico UK