FARMERS across the UK are urging the Government to back them as trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand reach an advanced stage.

The UK Farming Roundtable, involving 19 farming bodies across a range of sectors and from all 4 nations of the UK, has agreed five principles that are of crucial importance to UK food and farming in the negotiations.

l Upholding our high standards of production and positioning the UK as a global leader in sustainable farming and in tackling climate change;

l Recognising the specific sensitivities of some UK farming sectors, such as beef and sheep, in the current negotiations;

l Balancing improved access and lower tariffs for agricultural imports with quotas and other safeguards to avoid irreversible damage to UK farming;

l Ensuring any trade deal is genuinely reciprocal and that the benefits properly reflect how valuable UK market access is for foreign exporters;

l Acknowledging that these deals will establish precedents that will be reflected in all our trade deals.

Following the meeting, NFU President Minette Batters said: “The Government’s repeated commitments to safeguard our own standards and to not undercut UK farmers through unfair competition are encouraging, and we support their ambition to liberalise trade.

"We know that if we’re to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return.

"However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly. There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities."

Meanwhile, Country Land and Business Association President Mark Bridgeman said: “A free trade deal with Australia provides many opportunities for the British agri-food sector.

"British food is produced to some of the highest environmental and animal welfare standards in the world and there is every reason why our friends in Australia would want to buy British.

“Whilst many British consumers might look forward to cheaper Australian goods too, we owe it to them to ensure any food we import under this – or any other - trade deal meets the same high standards as is expected of UK producers.

“Herein lies the risk. If Government does not back British farmers in these negotiations then producers run the risk of being undercut by cheaper imports produced to much lower standards.

"This would be unacceptable.”