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Crikey Mate, That Aussie Trade Deal Could Be a Ripper for U.K. Food Standards

Marmite and Vegemite are fighting online, while U.K. farmers have fresh concerns over the consequences

Boris Johnson facing a camera holding a brown packet of Australian Tim Tams
Boris Johnson holding some Tim Tams in a gormless fashion
Boris Johnson/YouTube

With his fêted trade deal with Donald Trump’s America vanishing in the flap of a chlorinated chicken’s wing, Boris Johnson has turned to Australia for a Brexit trade deal — prompting both a renewal of concerns over food standards and a slew of Brand Content from Britain’s most famous yeast extracter.

The deal, announced by Johnson and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison with an exchange of a Penguin and a Tim Tam, chocolate biscuits each country claims cultural ownership of but neither produces nor owns, has been described as “piddling” from a numbers perspective. It will amount to a 0.02 percent boost to British trade, from a relationship currently worth £14 billion annually. EU trade stands at £660 billion annually; household savings on removed tariffs are set to hit the heady heights of £1.33 each.

It’s the knock-on effects for agriculture that promise more seismic impacts. The beef tariff quota would start at 35,000 tonnes, rising every year during the tariff period of ten years, after which they will be removed altogether — a quota so high that Labour and the National Farmers Union (NFU) fear it is meaningless. And while MPs will be able to examine the full agreement when it is written up, there will be no vote on its passing — meaning any unsatisfactory provisions will be nearly impossible to stop.

As with the proposed U.S. deal, the U.K. government is at pains to assure farmers and consumers that any meat not matching the country’s food standards will not be accepted, but it is yet to indicate how that will be enforced. MPs have consistently voted down Agriculture Bill amendments that would enshrine those food standards in law, despite their maintenance being a key pledge in the 2019 Conservative election manifesto. And even if supermarkets take their own measures — with a few having pledged not to stock chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef when the U.S. deal was making headlines — a stance against cuts of raw meat doesn’t provide ballast against ready meals, institutional catering ingredients in the likes of schools, prisons, and care homes, or other situations in which labelling laws allow significant loopholes and consumers have little or no choice about what they are eating.

Away from complex food standards politics, the brands are having a field day. A deal with Australia offers Marmite the opportunity to pull some stunts on Aussie counterpart Vegemite, or just stick a Penguin on top of a jar and imply they’re some sort of plane. Is the upside down jar an Australia joke?

No idea what this was from McVities, though, which might want to watch itself because Tim Tam maker Arnott’s says they’re coming to the U.K., and, they are, unfortunately, the superior biscuit.

Genuine political concern squirrelled away for some brand stunting? Couldn’t be the U.K. More soon on the trade deal’s consequences for U.K. farming and food.