While Liz Truss wants to get the region’s produce into “growing markets” in the wake of the Australia agreement, Labour have expressed concerns about farmers being undercut by the prospect of having to compete with food produced more cheaply and to lower animal welfare standards.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Truss said she has “absolute confidence that our produce is the best in the world”.
“I know there’s huge demand out there for it”, she added.
“We have been held back by being part of the EU and not having access to these markets. We are gaining access to these markets, that is of huge benefit and we have to have confidence that our produce is world beating.
“ What I’m doing as trade secretary is not just opening up those new markets but also providing farmers with extra support to go into those markets.”
The Australian trade deal is expected to be fully drafted by the end of this year, having already been agreed in principle. Ms Truss has previously said it will remove £124 million in tariffs paid by UK exporters each year, and £34 million for Australian exporters, but it has been criticised by many British farmers who are worried about being undercut by produce from down under, especially meat.
It is the UK's first post-Brexit trade agreement to be negotiated from scratch, and the Government has long argued that the ability to strike its own deals around the world is one of the big benefits of leaving the EU.
Ms Truss sought to alleviate some of those fears, describing Yorkshire beef as "some of the best beef in the world."
"It’s world famous," she said.
"And in fact we’re seeing a growing market for Yorkshire beef both in the United States where we got the beef ban lifted after 24 years but also in places like the Asia Pacific."
She added: “The price of beef in Japan is twice what it is in the UK. What I want is for Yorkshire farmers to have the opportunity to sell into those markets in Asia Pacific where there is growing demand for high quality produce both beef and lamb.”
Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard described the Australia deal as letting “farmers go to the wall” and one that leaves the door open for businesses to be “undercut by all the other trade deals that will follow”.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “I think my real worry is that the Australia trade deal will create a baseline for all future trade deals to follow. So if you were Canada or New Zealand or Brazil or Argentina and you’re looking at signing a trade deal with the UK, you’re definitely not going to want anything less than they’ve signed with Australia. So that means essentially full market access to your agricultural products to the UK market and that means it’s not just our farmers that are going to be undercut by the Australia trade deal, it’s likely they’ll be undercut by all the other trade deals that will follow.”
Mr Pollard also said that conscious consumers who want to buy British may find themselves eating Australian produce anyway as it will inevitably make its way into the restaurant and cafe supply chain.
He explained: ”I think the British public will want to back our farmers. They’ll want to support British farming, I think many of them will be aware that Australian food is produced to lower standards, so they’ll look out for that and not choose to buy it.
“But in a cafe or restaurant you don’t know where your food has come from. There’s no flag on the steak that you’ve just ordered to say it comes from Australia or from England. In that respect I think we’ll see Australia build its markets in food service but that is about 50% of the market, so if you undercut our farmers in food service you’re undercutting the viability of their business.”
Insisting that Australian beef “will be cheaper than British beef because of the scale of production down under and because of the lower standard” he added: “ When that appears on the supermarket shelf it will be cheaper than British beef and that means that for lots of consumers they will be buying the cheapest option, the most affordable option for them. That’s where you’re seeing this erosion of the British market and that’s why you can see farmers going out of business relatively easily.”