Cheaper food is one of the many benefits that the Australia deal and others like it will bring to post-Brexit Britain.
In 1846, the protectionist Corn Laws in Britain were finally repealed. These laws were introduced to protect British farmers but in effect they ended up punishing the poorest by forcing the price of bread sky high. The debate split the Tory Party but in the end, Peel and the free trade coalition succeeded.
Now, having left the EU after 40 years closeted in its protectionist embrace, we are sadly bogged down, repeating the same fears and in serious danger of falling for the same failed claims that were made 175 years ago. All this over a trade deal with an old friend and ally, who shares the same values as us and who, to our shame, we casually abandoned to their fate all those years ago when we joined the EU.
Those who campaigned for Brexit now need to remember that the ability to strike trade deals and control our own regulations were key reasons that we gave for leaving the bloc. I know it is inevitable that some on the Corbynite left who hate trade deals and others who hate Brexit will want to stop a Free Trade Agreement with Australia. But it is vital that the Government remember the message of Take Back Control, which was a promise to the British people that we would bring the benefits of free trade back to them.
As the World Bank has said, "Trade is central to ending global poverty. Countries that are open to international trade tend to grow faster, innovate, improve productivity and provide higher income and more opportunities." That is why this debate needs to be won by those who believe in free trade. After all, often drowned out in the protectionist rhetoric, is the incredible fact that free trade has done more to reduce poverty than all the socialist plans for state control have ever done.
That’s why the Australian FTA is so critical. If we hesitate, trembling at the door, then no one in the far east or the United States will take us seriously in future negotiations. After all, this is the first post-Brexit trade deal that wasn’t just cut and pasted from existing EU deals. Its significance, and therefore its potential, is enormous.
Some of the rhetoric in opposition to this deal is shrill and opportunistic. Just look at the claim made that if the UK signs an FTA with Australia, our green fields will look like the Australian outback. Seriously? Or that, from day one, enormous volumes of cheap beef and lamb would flood the UK market.
A glance at the figures show what utter nonsense this is. First, because this FTA will be phased in over time, allowing British farmers to adapt. Second, because most of Australia's beef and lamb is already consumed domestically or exported overwhelmingly to Pacific rim nations. That’s because these countries are some of the fastest-growing nations in the world with a rapidly growing middle-class who want high quality meat products.
I would have thought the fact that the growing middle class in the region are prepared to pay twice the price UK consumers will pay should make it obvious that there is huge potential for UK export growth. Furthermore, unlike the FTA with the EU, this one actually covers investment and financial services, of huge economic importance to us and which the EU deliberately excluded.
Finally, we shouldn’t lose sight of the vital geopolitical importance of taking this step. Relations with Australia and New Zealand are key to the UK accessing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP). Not only would joining this bloc open huge markets for our exports but it would also give the UK a leadership role as part of a critical bulwark against aggressive Chinese expansionism. I believe that China now poses the single biggest strategic threat to the free world, which is why this opportunity for us is enormous in every respect.
The simple truth is that FTAs benefit the whole economy. That’s why this FTA is in effect an early test. After all, Australia is an ally and friend that shares our values and commitments to human rights and has the same high animal welfare and food safety standards. If we aren’t able to sign a trade deal with them, then you have to wonder who we will ever strike an FTA with.
Now is not the time to get cold feet. Let’s rediscover our belief in the power of free trade, get this deal done and kick start global Britain.