Climate and environment sacrificed in rush to strike Australia trade deal, inquiry finds

The environment and the climate crisis have been sacrificed in the government’s rush to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia, the Lords Committee has warned.

Ministers are under fire for failing to fight for “ambitious” commitments to cut carbon emissions – even as Canberra was granted “generous” access to the sale of UK agricultural commodities.

The report raises concerns that Australia’s “deforested land” could be used to produce beef and grain that would be sent to the UK “in larger quantities”.

Goods produced ‘using UK-banned pesticides’ will be imported under the deal – the first with a new partner since the UK left the EU – found the Lords Committee on International Agreements.

It also failed to include any references to “reducing or reviewing Australia’s dependence on coal”, despite a subsequent agreement with New Zealand to do exactly that.

The committee also questions a government claim of no “significant” increase in CO2 emissions in the UK – arguing that it excludes freight transport and lower Australian production standards.

The report comes after the House of Commons Environment Committee sounded the alarm about the readiness of farmers and food producers to lose nearly £300m from tariff elimination.

The Lords Committee suggests that “the speed of negotiations” was prioritized over “the use of the UK’s influence to negotiate better outcomes” on the environment.

It states: “Given that the UK has given Australia generous access to agricultural markets, it is unfortunate that the government has not pressured Australia for more ambitious commitments on climate change.”

Baroness Hayter, chair of the committee, said: “There is a risk that this agreement will set a precedent for negotiations with countries, particularly with other large agricultural producers, such as the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.

“We urge the government to develop a clear policy against which future negotiations can be measured.”

It was revealed last year that the government had secretly dropped a number of climate pledges under pressure from Australia – causing embarrassment in the run-up to the Cop26 summit.

A binding section referring to “Paris Agreement temperature targets” has been deleted in order to get the agreement “across the line,” a leaked email revealed.

Today’s report indicates that the government expects a 0.08 per cent boost to GDP by 2035, from the Australia deal.

He describes this as a “rather limited – though welcome – effect” and calls claims for broader benefits for small businesses and professionals “speculative,” saying it “should not be exaggerated.”

Concerns were also raised that information had not been shared with the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The committee says the consultations should be “comprehensive and timely”, calling on other countries in the UK to be “engaged throughout the negotiations” in the future.

But the Department for International Trade (DIT) argued that the agreement “includes an environment chapter that goes beyond all other Australian trade deals”.

“We were clear during the negotiations that we would not sacrifice quality for speed, which is why there was no deadline for concluding the FTA,” a company spokesperson said.

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