SCOTLAND will reap “huge benefits” from post-Brexit trade deals, Liz Truss has insisted, as she said businesses want to move away from constitutional debates over independence.
In an interview with The Herald, the UK International Trade Secretary repeatedly refused to engage with questions about the impact of a physical border with England if Scotland becomes independent.
But she argued Scottish businesses currently enjoy “completely unfettered” access to the UK and do not want to move “backwards”.
Elsewhere, she said Douglas Ross will be the next First Minister of Scotland and predicted the Tories will win the next Holyrood election.
Ms Truss said the free trade deal with Australia, agreed last month, would bring huge benefits to Scottish industries such as fin-tech (IT-driven financial services) and whisky.
Asked about the concerns of Scottish farmers that the deal will ultimately give Australia unfettered access to the UK food and drink markets, she said: “The EU already have that access. We currently import 320,000 tonnes of beef from the EU.
“What we’re talking about in the first year of the Australia deal is 35,000 tonnes, and we consume a million tonnes of beef every year.
“The other point I’d make is that the vast majority of Australian meat goes into those high-value Asia-Pacific markets, because the prices are higher.
“Prices of beef in Korea and Japan are twice what they are in the UK.
“What I want is I want Scottish farmers to have those opportunities in those markets as well.
“Global demand for these products is growing. The Australians are successfully exporting into the Asian market, and I want Scottish farmers to have those opportunities.”
She said Scottish farmers boast a “world-beating product”.
Ms Truss, who was visiting Edinburgh and Glasgow as part of a two-day trip north of the border, said the UK is now exporting beef to the US for the first time in 24 years.
She added: “I’ve just been over in the US talking about getting lamb into the market. I’m hoping we’ll achieve that soon as well.
“The US is the second largest importer of lamb in the world.
“There are huge opportunities out there in these markets and we have to be confident in the products we’ve got.”
Asked about the widespread post-Brexit disruption in Scotland’s seafood sector, Ms Truss said her focus is on increasing markets for seafood internationally, including in China and the US.
Asked if she would apologise to businesses that have suffered huge financial losses because of Brexit, she said: “We’ve put in place a support fund through Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs], and also the Scottish Government were given money to help support the transition.”
She said Brexit is “giving us this huge opportunity with our international trade policy to do things differently”.
She added: “I’m very excited about India – it currently has a 150% tariff on whisky. We’re launching negotiations this autumn.”
The Herald repeatedly asked Ms Truss about the impact on trade of the border between Scotland and England in the event of independence.
She said the questions were “hypothetical”.
She said the UK Government is “upping our presence in terms of engaging with Scottish businesses about free trade deals, about investment, about exports”.
Ms Truss added: “I’ve been working with the Scotch whisky industry to get the tariffs removed.
“That is really the focus of everybody I speak to here in Scotland. Not one single person has mentioned the constitution.”
She said she supported “completely unfettered access for Scottish businesses to the rest of the UK, and that’s what we have at the moment”.
She added: “There was a referendum in 2014. A clear decision was made by the Scottish people. We’ve faced a horrendous pandemic, and what I hear from businesses is they want to move forward, not backwards.”
Elsewhere, Ms Truss called Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross “fantastic”.
Asked if she thought Mr Ross would be the next First Minister of Scotland, she said: “Yes.”
Asked if she thought he would win the next Holyrood election, Ms Truss replied: “I do. He’s a great guy.”