WITH AN outline Australian trade deal rushed to give Boris Johnson a boost at the end of the G7 summit, farmers know where they stand on the government's list of priorities.

The prospect of cheaper wine and food from Australia and the spinning of the deal as an example of what Brexit can deliver helped offset the latest climbdown on the end of Covid restrictions in England. Farmers' place in the pecking order is clearly below whisky, cars, student work visas and the popularity boost from cheaper Australian wine, beef and lamb.

Individuals can choose whether or not to believe assurances from the international trade minister, Liz Truss, that this will not damage the interests of UK farmers. That claim is based on a phasing in of zero tariffs and some form of cap on imports in the interim. Truss insists Australian beef will displace imports from the EU, with Ireland the most likely loser. This ignores the economic reality that importing from the EU means importing from a relatively high cost region. This is not the case with Australia, and just as a rising tide lifts all boats a falling tide brings them down. Put a cheap product into a market and the rest of the market moves towards that level. That is why Australian beef or lamb imports are a greater threat than products from Ireland or any other EU member state.

The decision on Australia will be looked at by the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It will raise concerns about standards, animal welfare and the use in Australia of veterinary products banned in the EU. However this will not stop the deal going through, given that it has Johnson's seal of approval and the massive majority the government enjoys at Westminster. Concerns from the farming lobby and the British Veterinary Association will ultimately be noted but ignored.

The farming lobby will appeal to people to think about the merits of producing food close to home, but price and political grandstanding will drive this process. For Johnson, this is proof that Brexit offers an alternative to trade with Europe. What it ignores is that for the UK, Ireland is a bigger market than Australia is ever likely to be, and not only for food. Gleefully suggesting Australia will push out Ireland does not make great business sense.

There is also the inconvenient reality that unrestricted trade based on Australian standards will make it more difficult to supply products to the EU. It will be deeply suspicious of the UK being used to get third country imports into the EU without tariffs. As the UK makes more deals like this, the red tape around exports to the EU can only get worse. It will be interesting in the months ahead to see whether the EU, with its offer of 500 million consumers, can secure the same deal without selling out its farmers. That is certainly not going to happen. If it comes to a choice between accepting UK-style tariff free access and walking away from a deal, the EU will walk. London is happy to sell out farmers, but key EU member states will always prevent that happening there.

The other Truss claim is that the Australia deal will be the opener to the UK being part of a trans-Pacific trade partnership. She rightly says that Asia will remain a growth market, thanks to a burgeoning, prosperous middle class. What is less certain is her leap from that to suggest this will create new markets for UK beef and lamb, making the downside of accepting southern hemisphere imports unacceptable. What she ignores is the number of ultra-low cost producers already geared up to supply that market, not least from the Australia and New Zealand, not to mention Brazil.

It is an equally inconvenient truth that the EU is targeting Asian markets for trade deals – its existing deal with Japan being the world's biggest free trade pact. Spin as Truss might, there is no upside in this for farmers. The principle of how the UK wants to do trade deals has been created. This is now the starting point in terms of market access for all future trade deals. That might be good news for some parts of the economy, and even for some Scottish industries. But farmers would do well to remember what cheap imports and low standards did to once great Scottish industries, such as textiles and shipbuilding.