The free trade agreement with Australia has been scrutinised in a new report.

The deal set to lose UK farmers £278million needs commitment to animal welfare and environmental standards, the government has been told.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published its report on the free trade agreement with Australia published today (Friday).

The report quotes government adviser Henry Dimbleby as saying that a failure to adopt a ‘core standards’ approach to animal welfare and the environment, while negotiating free trade agreements, poses a danger of “exporting cruelty and carbon emissions abroad”.

The committee’s report acknowledges that the Australia free trade deal does not prevent core standards being adopted in the future and that it is unlikely that much food that doesn’t meet these standards will enter the country because of this deal.

However, it also argued that committing to such standards - on matters such as deforestation and the use of hormone growth chemicals in meat – ahead of negotiations would strengthen the hand of UK negotiators.

It would also, the report said, reassure UK producers about the government’s commitment to high environmental and animal welfare standards.

The government estimates that the Australia free trade agreement – which removes tariffs on a wide range of imports from Australia, including beef and sheep meat, sugar and wine - will boost the UK economy by £2.3billion (or 0.08 per cent) by 2035, but that some sectors including farming will lose out.

The report calls on the government to aid the UK farming and food sector in making up the £278million loss the government itself estimates the sector will experience as a result of the free trade agreement, by allocating additional support for exports.

The chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, said: “While we heard from some witnesses that it appears unlikely this deal will have a significant immediate impact on UK farmers, the government needs to carefully monitor the situation and learn lessons for future trade deals.

“The government must commit to helping the food and farming sector win back the £278million worth of lost growth it will experience because of this deal.

"There’s a plan to appoint new trade envoys to push our exports. We welcome that, but we also need to see the government commit to - and deliver on – the £278million target for additional exports to ensure the sector is no worse off.

"If that requires other export promotion strategies, then they must be implemented.

"We will be watching the numbers and holding the government to account.

“Secondly, we want our high UK animal welfare and environmental standards baked into every trade deal we do from now on.

"The government has done well protecting our rules on beef hormone growth chemicals, but having ‘core standards’ in all deals would strengthen our hand when negotiating with other countries.

"Some nations will no doubt want to challenge these rules – and similar bans on things like chlorine-washed chicken – so it’s vital to have our high standards in there right from the start.

”It’s all part of the government needing to listen more carefully to our farmers and food producers. They have the expertise to help us get better deals all round – let's use it.”

UK cattle and sheep farmers have been among those most concerned about the deal.

Witnesses told the committee they feared that cheaper costs of production on Australia’s much larger farms, as well as lower animal welfare standards in Australia, would allow Australian exporters to undercut them in UK shops.

READ NEXT: New farm worker visas introduced but more needed, say critics

The committee heard from some witnesses that there is unlikely to be a significant, immediate impact on UK cattle and sheep farmers.

This is because Australia has more profitable markets closer to home and anyway does not send all the meat it could to the UK under current trade arrangements.

However, the report noted that after 15 years there will be no limit on imports. The committee said the government must monitor the impact on the sector closely over time - and develop plans to intervene should this be necessary.

The committee also concluded that it appears unlikely food produced to lower standards, in areas like animal welfare, will enter the UK.

However, given this, the committee said it was disappointing that the deal did not include more far-reaching provisions on animal welfare, which would have shown greater international leadership by the UK in this area.