ALEX BRUMMER: As much as we may value UK farming, the Australia free trade deal opens up a new frontier
A visitor from Mars trying to understand the UK trade deal with our kith and kin in Australia might receive a misleading impression.
Relentless lobbying by the National Farmers Union, assisted by the BBC’s Farming Today programme, would lead them to think that such a deal was an existential threat for UK agriculture and food quality.
When, as the son of a Sussex farmer, I questioned whether so much attention to a sector accounting for 0.61 per cent of GDP deserved special treatment in the UK- Aussie trade deal, a torrent of critical (some of it abusive) correspondence landed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, left, after agreeing the broad terms of a free trade deal between the UK and Australia
It is unpatriotic to question the UK’s superior food standards. How quickly we forget BSE which haunted farming in the 1990s and the 2001 foot and mouth crisis.
Those convinced of our high-quality food production should read the just-published, stomach-churning account by author Henry Mance of working at the Forge Farm Meats abattoir just outside London.
The reality is that as much as we may value UK farming, the Australia free trade deal breaks new ground.
Until now most trade deals, including those forged by the EU, ignored services. Yet services are the lifeblood of the UK economy and financial services in particular, accounting for 7 per cent of GDP, are a critical part of the accord.
Last year the UK exported £5.4billion worth of services, representing 39.6 per cent of all exports Down Under. Financial services exports amounted to £2.2billion.
The opportunity is not just building up the relationship with Sydney but tapping into the impossibly named Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Japan is already on the bandwagon for global Britain and now Australia is too. The City UK points out that the Aussie deal is on the ‘cutting edge of trade innovation’.
As International Trade Secretary Liz Truss presses the case for the treaty, there will be much focus on physical trade including Australia’s appetite for our biscuits, sweets and Scotch.
It is what you don’t see that’s most impressive. A friend at Monash University in Australia is working flat out on the scientific biotech aspects of the deal and is encouraged. The chance for under-35s to train and work in Australia is also attractive.
None of us wants to see a deal which puts family farms out of business. Nor do we want anything which undermines food quality. But if the ‘Red Tractor’ label is all that it is cracked up to be then good British produce will triumph.
After all, farming is being allowed up to 15 years to adjust to a new regime.
Boohoo is engaged in a tug of war between the public appetite for £5 frocks and the current push in the fashion industry for more sustainability.
Boosted by a host of brands bought from Arcadia, Boohoo produced a 32 per cent rise in first-quarter income to £486.1million, with UK and American sales the highlight.
After the row over slave labour conditions in its UK supply chain, it is winning plaudits from adjudicator Sir Brian Leveson over the speed of the clean-up and the adoption of a recognised factory audit. There is much about Boohoo’s broader governance still to be fixed.
Shareholder advisory group Glass Lewis is opposing the reappointment of co-founder and executive director Carol Kane at Friday’s annual meeting.
It also objects to a bonus scheme which, if it pays out in 2023, could hand £50million each to Kane and her co-founder and chairman Mahmud Kamani.
A separate plan for chief executive John Lyttle could also end with a £50million bonus should a market value target be reached.
As a direct beneficiary of online shopping and the opportunistic purchase of failed brands in the Covid era, Boohoo’s bonus plans are out of touch with the zeitgeist.
Investors have no choice but to say no.
Here is something novel. When fintech innovator Wise is introduced to the London Stock Exchange in the next several days it will be among a handful of recently floated companies which actually makes a profit.
A value of £9billion is forecast although investors could be discouraged by the dual listing.
Founders Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarmann believe they have a fighting chance of rendering rip-off and slow lane overseas transfers by the big banks irrelevant by its offer of low cost, faster services.
Bring it on!