Scotland’s leading food producers have warned Liz Truss the proposed Australian trade deal presents "enormous" risks to their industries and expressed concern it will be a template for agreements with other countries.
In an open letter that has been signed by 14 businesses and trade bodies, the group accused the UK Government of avoiding scrutiny and consultation with the sector, which is worth more than £6 billion a year in Scotland.
Ms Truss, the International Trade Secretary, has insisted British farmers have nothing to fear and an "awful lot to gain" from a free trade deal with Australia, while suggesting a five per cent whisky tariff may be scrapped in the first agreement drawn up from scratch since the UK left the EU.
But critics of the proposed agreement fear the zero tariffs and zero quotas deal that the government in Canberra is demanding would see British farmers and businesses undercut by Australian rivals, with concerns that cheap imports of beef and lamb could see demand for home-grown produce dwindle.
Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader, has warned Scotland’s farmers and crofters would be disproportionately affected, with the country’s beef, dairy, sheep and grain sectors particularly at risk.
The letter, with signatories including the chief executives of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland, the Scottish Seafood Association, and Scotland Food & Drink, said that while they "recognise the UK Government’s desire to move quickly to create new opportunities with nations beyond the EU", they are concerned the negotiations are "too quick and denying the opportunity for appropriate scrutiny and consultation".
It added: "The risks here are enormous for the whole food and drink supply chain and, in the absence of any formal impact assessment to suggest the contrary, we remain hugely concerned at the impact on sensitive sectors of our industry."
Elaborating on the worries caused by the potential trade deal, Scotland Food & Drink chief executive James Withers warned the UK’s international reputation could be damaged if a deal is rushed through.
"We need a UK trade policy that not only protects the high animal welfare, environmental and food safety standards here, but acts as a force for their development globally," he said. "The importance of the UK-Australian deal goes beyond the relative value to both nations; it could set the framework for all future trade deals." He added the "price of failure is too high".
The SNP said the intervention must serve as an "urgent wake-up call" for the UK Government and demanded it "push the brakes on its damaging trade deal plans".
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael added: "Buyer’s remorse already appears to be settling in with ministers around the rushed and heedless deal they made with the EU.
"You might think they would have learned to slow things down for negotiations with Australia and others so that they do not make the same mistake twice. Based on today’s letter, the lesson appears to have passed them by."
A spokesperson for the Department of International Trade said: "We seek a wide range of views before, during and after negotiations to ensure all voices are heard, and consult widely across the country before we launch talks, including extensive engagement with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"We will only sign deals that work for all parts of the United Kingdom, including any potential deal with Australia. Our Exports Minister was in Scotland last week to champion the benefits of the Australia [free trade agreement], highlighting how a tariff reduction would benefit iconic goods like Scotch whisky.
"Any deal we sign will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards."