THE National Sheep Association (NSA) is clear that contingency support, if done correctly, would be sufficient to support the industry and prevent the mass slaughter of lambs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
NSA has been working on potential contingency plans for a number of years and refutes the proposal, that Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has refused to rule out, that millions of sheep will need to be slaughtered if export access to the EU is cut off by sky-high WTO tariffs.
NSA Chairman Bryan Griffiths comments: “The slaughter of prime lambs ready to go into the food chain, providing high quality, premium lamb products is an absolute worst-case scenario and NSA is continuing to work closely with Defra ministers and civil servants to provide industry support and prevent it happening.”
The challenge for the UK sheep sector, which exports nearly 40 per cent of total production, is that peak lamb production roughly coincides with the date the UK could crash out of the EU. Even if the UK obtains third country status with the EU, allowing it to continue trading with France and other major buyers of UK lamb, this would likely result in the implementation of WTO tariffs.
Mr Griffiths explains: “The most likely scenario after a no-deal Brexit is the UK trading on WTO terms. This in turn lands sheep farmers with the significant problem of tariffs, which for sheepmeat is somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent. This is a problem that will need to be overcome as we currently send some 96 per cent of our sheepmeat exports to the EU.
“However, the solution isn’t just to shoot the animals – the Government must work closely with our industry to be creative in its thinking to find the best way forward to underpin the sheepmeat export market until we can regain lost ground.”
NSA is calling for the Government to provide assurance that every workable solution will be tried and implemented, which NSA is confident would provide the necessary support before considering such a radical resort as destroying stock.
Mr Griffiths continues: “NSA recognises it would be illegal under WTO rules for the Government to simply offset the cost of tariffs but the destruction of prime lamb would be disastrous for our industry and every other avenue must and will be explored first.”
NSA is in regular discussions with Defra and has offered alternatives to the Government’s current support proposals that it believes would better support the most vulnerable areas of the sector. However, neither NSA nor Defra’s proposals include the culling of livestock.