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Why we should be wary of Brexiteers’ efforts to import more Australian meat

Behind the bucolic image of antipodean farming lies a darker tale.

Image: Skitterphoto/CC0

Lobbyists who represented the Australian live sheep exporters at the centre of a national scandal over the deaths of thousands of animals in appalling conditions are now working to reduce welfare standards on meat imports to the UK after Brexit.

Liam Fox, the secretary of state for International Trade, is keen to do a deal with Australia. He announced a bilateral trade working group with Australia two years ago (September 2016).
The EU and UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce has been established by the Australian live export industry with the aim of “favourably positioning Australia for positive outcomes in the EU free trade negotiations...and ensuring industry has a strategy for the UK Brexit process.”

Jason Strong, the chairman of the taskforce, argues that Brexit is a “once in a generation” opportunity to undermine the “restrictive” EU market. He said industry wanted to export the “lowest potential value item in a burnt goat head” to Britain after it leaves the trading block.

Mr Strong’s taskforce was set up by Red Meat Advisory Council (RMAC) which includes LiveCorp - a live exports industry association funded through statutory levies - among its most important “service providers”. LiveCorp in turn has loyally represented Emanuel Exports - which has been gripped by scandals about the welfare of the animals for decades.

Graham Daws, when managing director of Emanuel Exports, apologised after a video was released by an employee showing the suffering on board a huge shipment where more than 2,400 sheep died of heat stress while being exported to the Middle East in August 2017. He stepped down as a director of Emanuel Exports just two months ago as his companies remained mired in controversy.

The video footage - shot during a voyage in which 2,400 sheep died of heat stress - was filmed by the trainee navigator Faisal Ullah and released through the advocacy group Animals Australia. It was shown on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes programme.

Nic Daws, a director, said at the time that the incident was “is simply devastating and Emanuel Exports apologises to farmers and the broader community for these absolutely unacceptable outcomes” and mass deaths “are heartbreaking for our company and the producers whose livestock we export.”

Some months later, Narelle Clegg, the animal export lead at the Australian Agriculture Department, ruled there had been no breaches on the Awassi Express chartered by Emanuel Exports. Just last week, the Australian federal government gave the go ahead for Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading to transport live sheep to the middle east. The company is, according to the Guardian, linked to Emanual Exports.

Daws had been leading member of LiveCorp, which represents the live export industry in Australia, having been elevated to its “hall of fame” at a gala dinner in November 2017. Terry Enright, chairman of LiveCorp, had described Daws as “a driving force in the live sheep trade from Western Australia to the Middle East,” adding: “His place in the industry’s Hall of Fame is thoroughly deserved.”

The company has a long and torrid history of mass mortality shipments of sheep. Melissa Parke, the former federal member for Fremantle, told protesters at the height of the scandal: “This was not a one-off incident, this was routine.”

Graham Daws and then fellow director Michael Stanton were charged with animal cruelty after 1,000 sheep died on aboard the MV Al Kuwait headed to the Middle East in November 2003. The magistrate found “elements of the offence of cruelty to sheep, in the way of transport, were proven” but the case failed when the magistrate ruled that the WA Animal Welfare Act conflicted with Commonwealth law.

Emanuel Exports, and related companies EMS Rural Exports and International Livestock Exports, has been responsible for 37 shipments during which more than 1,000 sheep have died since 2005, according to animal rights campaigners Animals Australia.

Dr Tony Hill, who worked as a vet for International Livestock Exports, witnessed how damp manure had released ammonia creating a “gas chamber” on the Al Khaleej ship during a 2001 voyage. He said then: “We saw sheep leaning out of the ship and trying to throw themselves out through the bars and frothing at the mouth and just expiring.”

Further, Strong is quoted on the taskforce website stating: “There are two components in any formal negotiations for Australia – one is volume and the other is the type of product and how we get it into market.

The EU and UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce is also backed by Meat and Livestock Australia, which is keen to challenge EU quotas regulation of meat imported to the UK after Brexit.

Andrew McCallum, representing the MLAT, has said: “Brexit provides an unprecedented opportunity for the Australian red meat industry to enhance its trading relationship with the UK…. a more liberalised UK import regime than is currently in place, would deliver substantial advantages...to the Australian red meat industry.

“In essence, the opportunity that Brexit and a subsequent Australia-UK FTA now provide [is] one which must be pursued with vigour and accordingly allocated the highest priority.”

The MLAT has also told its members: “The Australian red meat industry can ill afford to see any reduction to this access to the EU as a result of Brexit...We are monitoring the UK’s position on this closely and urging the UK to establish a fair system.”

The lobbyists for the Australian meat industry can celebrate some highly significant recent successes. Boris Johnson, in his Brexit broadside against Theresa May, argued that “regulatory divergence” is “one of the key attractions of Brexit”. He attacked the Prime Minister’s Chequers proposal on the basis that “we [would] abandon control of our regulatory framework for goods and agri-foods - especially important in trade negotiations.”

Johnson in his article referenced Shanker Singham, the director of the International Trade and Competition Unit at the free market Institute of Economic Affairs and made heavy use of the think tank’s Plan A+ report.

This report amplified many of the concerns and complaints of the Australian livestock industry. Singham argued strongly in favour of a bilateral trade agreement with Australia and also for the UK to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans- Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trading block, which includes Australia.

He added: “Many of the countries the UK would be seeking to negotiate free trade agreements with as it executes its independent trade policy (such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and others) are Commonwealth countries. These countries are like-minded in terms of a shared commitment to trade liberalisation and competitive markets, and have worked together in other contexts to deepen liberalisation.” 

Singham favours more liberal trade deals and attacked European Union environmental regulations as “disguised methods of protectionism”. He said the US has complained bitterly about EU rules in goods and agri-food. “The same is true of other big agricultural exporters like Australia, New Zealand and many of the CPTPP countries.” He advised that the UK must not “remained tied to the EU regulatory system” but instead “meet CPTPP members’ approaches to good regulatory practice”.

If the UK government were to follow Singham’s advice it would sign free trade agreements that would “allow companies from each party, in as many sectors as possible, to export according to their own country’s regulations and standards, which would then be recognised by the other country.” This would allow Australia to import meat to the UK treated with hormones. Indeed, Singham argued that the UK had violated WTO rules in relation to hormone treated meat from Canada and the US.

Singham’s comments about reducing regulation for India includes the entire shopping list drawn up by the Australian sheep export industry. He said: “The UK will need to provide much greater market access to India’s agricultural produce. This means reducing tariffs, but critically means reducing the regulatory barriers derived from the SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] and TBT [technical barriers to trade] rules in the European acquis.

“Thus the UK will need regulatory autonomy over these rules in order to do a deal with India. This will benefit Indian producers as well as British consumers through cheaper products…In particular, India will want to see a more open UK agricultural sector, both in terms of tariffs and in terms of regulatory barriers such as the EU’s environmental and other regulatory barriers in the agricultural sector.”

A trustee and donor to the think tank, Michael Hintze, is “one of Australia’s biggest landholders and a major investor in Australian farming, including beef cattle”, according to Private Eye. Hintze has also given £4 million to the Conservative Party, and £100,000 to the Leave campaign. He is also a close friend of Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, Private Eye reports.

Kierra Box, Brexit campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told openDemocracy: “Ministers were queueing up at this year’s Conservative party conference to champion UK standards on animal welfare, food production and consumer goods, promising the public that we can rest assured none of the standards that support our environment will be bargained away in pursuit of these deals.

“So it is mystifying that some members of the government continue to follow the destructive path advocated by backroom lobbyists rather than support the vision of a better environment for the next generation which will benefit. No one voted for Britain to leave Europe in order to become the dirty man of the world again.”

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