Politics: Anxiety over the free trade agreement is unfounded
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The Covid-19 vaccine programme continues at pace across the United Kingdom, with close to three-quarters of all adults having received at least one dose and nearly half now fully vaccinated.
This achievement would not have been possible without the fantastic work of our NHS, British Armed Forces and all the other volunteers and key workers involved.
The UK Government has procured and source vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and of course the Oxford University created vaccine from Astra Zeneca.
And last Friday came the news that yet another vaccine, the single-dose Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine has been approved for use by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Our world leading vaccine rollout means that we can anticipate a further loosening of restrictions in the coming weeks.
However, while enjoying the new opportunities these relaxations and reopenings provide, we need to continue looking after ourselves and each other by following those social-distancing and hygiene guidance which remain in place.
I was pleased to see local businesses step up and donate funds for the repairs to the Turriff Den playpark which was vandalised a few weeks ago. The park is a great asset to the town, and its sensory features made it especially accessible and welcoming to all.
I was disgusted at the behaviour behind the vandalism, sadly something which has since been repeated with park benches being thrown in the burn.
I join Turriff Business Association in welcoming the installation CCTV around Turriff – which will hopefully deter crime and help business owners and residents feel safe and confident to shop as we continue to reopen and focus on economic and social recovery from the pandemic.
There has been much discussion lately around the prospect of a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia and the potential impact on our farmers.
I have been talking with local farmers and NFU Scotland on this matter – as well as with UK Government colleagues in the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of International Trade (DIT) – ensuring that concerns are heard.
Trade deals with new export markets will bring new export opportunities to Scottish farmers.
Scotch beef, lamb and other food and drink – including whisky of course – is much sought after around the world.
For example, there is growing demand for our food and drink in Asia-Pacific markets and an Australia FTA will be a gateway to the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
CPTPP is a high-standard, FTA with 11 Asia-Pacific nations which would mean lower tariffs for British exports.
In these markets, demand is increasing for high quality beef and lamb, while it falls in Europe.
DIT Ministers have said that an FTA with Australia will not undercut British farmers, with analysis showing little to no impact with projected productivity improvements.
Australia is already entitled to export a limited quota of tariff-free lamb to the UK and they are currently not meeting that limit.
As always, the SNP have taken to exaggerating and promoting anxiety among consumers as well as farmers.
But the UK Government have again repeated our manifesto commitment to not reducing animal welfare, food safety and environment standards as part of any trade deal.
These high standards will not change as a result of this or any other trade deal.