The International Trade Committee, a cross-party committee of UK members of parliament, has warned the government against “overselling” its free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia, saying that “flat-footed negotiating” has led to significant concessions without securing all possible benefits in return.

Signed amid much fanfare in December last year, the UK-Australia free trade agreement marks the country’s first “from-scratch” pact since leaving the European Union. “Our new free-trade agreement opens fantastic opportunities for British businesses and consumers, as well as young people wanting the chance to work and live on the other side of the world,” said the UK’s outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson when the deal was agreed. “This is global Britain at its best – looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and help ensure every part of the country builds back better from the pandemic.”

In a statement, the UK government said the FTA would mean “iconic British products like cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell into Australia, boosting UK industries that employ 3.5 million people across the country”, adding that it would create opportunities for businesses and producers in every part of the UK.

“Membership will create unheralded opportunities for our farmers, makers, innovators and investors to do business in the future of engine room of the global economy,” said Liz Truss, then-secretary of state for international trade.

Beyond the bombast, though, the real impact of the deal is likely to be muted if not negative, according to a report published by the International Trade Committee following a months-long inquiry into the FTA.

“The government must level with the public – this trade deal will not have the transformative effects ministers would like to claim,” says committee chair Angus Brendan MacNeil. “The government’s own impact assessment shows an increase in GDP of just 0.08% as a result of the deal, and the balance of gains and losses varies between economic sectors and nations of the UK.”

The MPs point out that lifting almost all tariffs on agricultural imports is a significant change, and potentially sets an important precedent for deals with major food-exporting nations. While the government has sought to cushion negative impacts on the UK agriculture sector with phase-in arrangements, the committee says farmers are concerned that these protections are not adequate.

In written evidence to the committee’s inquiry, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which represents more than 46,000 farming and growing businesses in England and Wales, said: “There is little in this deal to benefit British farmers… The NFU is not opposed to free trade, but we do believe that deals must be balanced in respect of offering reciprocal benefit.” It added that despite the UK government’s assurances on sensitive sectors, products such as beef and lamb will be completely liberalised for Australian imports after 10 years, sugar after eight years and dairy after five years, with specific bilateral safeguards within the terms of the agreement only being available for a further five years beyond the point tariffs are removed.

“British farmers are being asked to go toe-to-toe with some of the most cost-effective food producers in the world. But there is scant evidence that the government has the vision to create the conditions to allow our farmers to compete,” the NFU said. “We see almost nothing in the deal that will prevent an increase in imports of food produced well below the production standards required of UK farmers or in line with the expectations of the British public. There is also nothing in the deal that realises protection and enhanced value for products carrying UK geographical indications.”

Noting concerns that tariff-free Australian food will not be required to meet core UK food production standards, for example regarding pesticide use, the committee is calling on the government to outline how it will monitor this to ensure it does not lead to unfair competition.

The committee also points out that the government has failed to secure protection for the names of the “iconic” UK food and drink exports it referred to when agreeing the deal, such as Melton Mowbray pork pies, Scotch whisky, Welsh lamb and Irish cream liqueur. “As a result, it remains legal in Australia to impersonate these products. This protection for UK exports should have been an easy win,” the report says, calling it “another example of the government failing to secure an obvious benefit in exchange for the extensive concessions it has given on liberalising agri-food imports”.

The report goes on to say that while tariff reductions on processed food and drink may benefit consumers, they are unlikely to make a noticeable difference at supermarket checkouts, adding that products such as Australian wines could become cheaper by “just a few pence”.

The committee is now calling for a full assessment of the winners and losers across all economic sectors and nations of the UK.

“As the first wholly new trade deal since Brexit, this agreement sets a precedent for the future,” says MacNeil. “It is vital that the government learns from this experience and negotiates harder next time around to maximise gains and minimise losses for all economic sectors and parts of the UK.”

In a statement issued following the committee’s report, the Department of International Trade says: “Our landmark trade agreement with Australia will unlock £10.4bn of additional bilateral trade, support economic growth in every part of the UK and deliver for the 15,300 businesses already exporting goods to Australia.

“We have always said that we will not compromise the UK’s high environmental, animal welfare or food safety standards, and the independent Trade & Agriculture Commission recently concluded that the deal does not undermine the UK’s robust domestic protections.”