Sir, – A few people have said to me that they reckon the Australian trade deal isn’t anything to get excited about – they have customers in China and the Middle East and they are prone to drought. But hold on a minute, why are supermarkets always competing for customers?

For starters we don’t know what sort of a trade deal Australia has with its other customers, are they zero tariff like the one with UK?

Other folk have mentioned drought in Australia as reason not to be concerned by a trade deal with them, but Australia is a vast area of nearly 3m square miles and drought doesn’t affect the whole island, so natural disaster disrupting trade to us is probably not of total concern to their politicians.

We should consider a couple of things that might influence Australia’s desire to send product to the UK. We can be fairly certain that they have been plugging a gap with sheep meat to some extent as the Chinese wrestled with an outbreak of African swine fever in 2018.

However, recovery of the pig sector in China has been better that predicted, with their national pig herd increasing by 36m pigs in the last quarter of 2020 alone, to a total of 406m pigs. In 2020, China imported 10m tonnes of meat – 4.4m tonnes of which was pork and the remaining 5.6m tonnes made up of beef, lamb and poultry. We have no idea if the Chinese demand for Australian red meat will remain at the same level.

From past history, the NZ dairy sector took a bad hit a few years ago when China stopped buying dried milk powder from them and in Britain the value of scrap metal has very much been influenced by the Chinese market. It is fair to say the Western world as a whole has experienced a fickleness of trade due to politics and other factors between ourselves and China. Trump certainly didn't know how to handle China.

However, I can vividly remember my farm study tour to Brazil in 2005 when one of our party asked the manager of a large Brazilian abattoir why they would target Europe and the UK in particular as a destination for their beef? At the time, the answer rather took me by surprise, but must be a major factor in our mindset when worrying about our farming future in Britain.

"In Europe and the UK in particular we can be sure of being paid for our beef." Although UK no longer has a triple A credit rating, we are still seen by the rest of the world to be extremely trustworthy over our national debt.

For me, the biggest concern is that the trade deal with Australia is that this is our first with any other country in a post-Brexit world. Therefore, the eyes of the rest of the world will be very interested in what the UK has, or has not achieved, and will be keen to pick up on any perceived weaknesses in our negotiators.

From a farming perspective, the UK government has led its population to believe that we have a very good deal with very little regard to the fact that a transition period of 15 years was given way on at the eleventh hour.

A look at the Australian government website tells a very different story with greatly increased tonnages of produce having instant tariff free access to the UK from the moment of signing.

It might be worth giving some consideration to the amount of sugar that might be headed this way, starting with 80,000 tonnes and increasing to 240,000 tonnes in eight years. It is my guess that this will be in the form of molasses, or ethanol and headed to our petrochemical works as a fuel additive as we reduce the mineral oil content of the fuels we use.

Spectators will have seen that the UK has extremely weak negotiators and will demand trade deals that are as equally beneficial to them, as Australia have gleaned from us.

An example (if it were needed) were the terms with which we left the EU only six months ago, with businesses and in particular fishermen, going to the wall, because they found trade with our old EU partners so absolutely impossible.

Our own government found the terms to be so bad that already they have been ignored and broken so badly that Brussels is looking to drag us through the international courts to bring us back into line.

I’m not blaming UK for being weak negotiators. Brussels have negotiated our trade deals for the last goodness knows how long, we just don’t have the experience.

The last big deal the UK negotiated was back in 1984 when Thatcher got us a large rebate of the VAT we pay, our contribution to the EU coffers. The Blair regime all but handed that rebate back and when Cameron tried to negotiate a better deal for us in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, he came home with nothing and Brexit was virtually in the bag for the Brexiteers.

If Boris Johnson wants to make a success of Brexit, he and his team are going to have to get some backbone and do a lot better than they have so far.

My guess is that New Zealand will end up with a trade deal on similar terms to Australia, but others around the world will have to be fought for around a negotiating table and our negotiators are going to have to be on their mettle ... if, of course, they have any?

Having watched the interactions between Biden and Johnson, it would be of little surprise to me that a forthcoming trade deal with the US will be seen by our farmers as even more harsh than the Australian one we are about to sign up to.

Hamish Waugh