A TRADE deal reached in principle between the UK and New Zealand has been slammed for undermining farming and food production.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has described the situation as “dire” while the National Farmers’ Union said it had opened the UK’s doors for even more imports but secured almost nothing for farmers.
The National Sheep Association has voiced fears UK farming standards will be undermined by the deal while Dairy UK said it had highlighted the “lack of collaboration” between UK government and agriculture.
Reacting to news of the deal, UFU President Victor Chestnutt said: “UK farming and local food production has been completely undermined by this New Zealand trade deal. Combined with the Australia agreement at the beginning of this year, Government has granted access to a significant increase of imported food allowing it into our market, with no guarantees about how it was produced or if it meets our world leading standards. To make the situation all the more dire, nothing of substance was gained for our farmers.
“The future of our unique farm family structure across Northern Ireland has become very vulnerable overnight as it could be severely damaged by the market access Government has granted to both New Zealand and Australia. “It’s extremely concerning for our red meat, dairy and horticulture farm sectors and for the public. Our consumers who take pride in supporting local farmers for the work that they do producing high-quality, trustworthy, local food, looking after the environment and boosting employment in rural areas, have been sold-out too.
“No attempt of communication was made by government as to how they would work to protect our local food production while trying to get a trade deal with New Zealand over the line. Farm businesses across Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK, are already enduring substantially higher input costs in comparison to those farmers on the other side of the world and are dealing with ongoing labour availability.
“It seems that government are either oblivious to what farmers are dealing with or have chosen to dismiss it as they have created unfair competition within our home market which will affect the sustainability of our family farms in years to come.
“Now going forward, government is expecting our farmers to maintain the same high standards while meeting raising production costs and complete against two of the biggest exporting countries in the world minus the long-term, appropriate agri support that is needed to be able to do this.
“New Zealand and Australia are renowned world exporters because of the strategic farming investments made by their governments, the UK needs to adopt a similar approach to safeguard and strengthen our agri-food production.”
Mr Chestnutt continued: “As it stands, it is very hard to see the positives of this trade deal and other countries will be watching this development with a growing drive to secure a similar agreement. It’s extremely worrying that with trade deals continuing to develop, the establishment of a statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) which government announced almost a year ago now, has still not happened.
“The TAC would be tasked with conducting parliamentary scrutiny of individual trade deals that the UK are pursuing, specifically the impact on agriculture – this work would have been hugely beneficial during the process of New Zealand and Australia trade deal discussions.
“The TAC needs to set up immediately to ensure meaningful consideration is given by parliamentarians of all future trade deals that the UK is endorsing.”
NFU President Minette Batters commented: “The announcement of this trade deal with New Zealand, coupled with the Australia deal signed earlier this year, means we will be opening our doors to significant extra volumes of imported food – whether or not produced to our own high standards – while securing almost nothing in return for UK farmers. We should all be worried that there could be a huge downside to these deals, especially for sectors such as dairy, red meat and horticulture.”
She added: “The Government is now asking British farmers to go toe-to-toe with some of the most export orientated farmers in the world, without the serious, long-term and properly funded investment in UK agriculture that can enable us to do so.
“It’s incredibly worrying that we’ve heard next to nothing from government about how it will work with farming to achieve this. This is why it is very, very difficult for the NFU to show any support for these deals.
“Instead of repeating the refrain that these deals will be good for British agriculture, our government now needs to explain how these deals will tangibly benefit farming, the future of food production and the high standards that go along with it on these shores.”
Expressing its disappointment, the National Sheep Association said it is concerned for its future impact on the UK sheep sector as the trade deal now gives New Zealand the go ahead to export an additional 35,000 tonnes of sheep meat during the first four years of the agreement, and a further 50,000 tonnes from year five.
This is in addition to the existing tariff-rate quota (TRQ) held as part of the WTO agreement that already allows New Zealand to export 114,000 tonnes to the UK each year. The new agreement will see all quotas removed by year 15 meaning New Zealand will have tariff and duty free access for unlimited supplies of sheep meat product to be exported to the UK .
This agreement in principle follows quickly on the heels of a similar agreement in principle with Australia – these two nations being the largest exporters of sheep meat globally, with Australia having been gifted substantial increases in sheep meat access to the UK.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive commented: “For all the warm words we’ve heard from our Government this news is highly disappointing, even though I’d say it’s no surprise. You only have to see the statements being made by the red meat sector in New Zealand for evidence they intend to send more and more sheep meat in our direction, and this in addition to the increase in access by Australia means together, in just over a decade, these two countries will have access to our entire volume of lamb consumption.
“Although the government has long made its intentions clear over trade liberalisation the one thing they have promised us is protection of the high standards of production, environmental protection and animal welfare that British farmers adhere to. But here, in the agreement in principle, in black and white, the get out clause is clear for all to see – recognition that New Zealand and the UK’s farming systems are different but provide comparable outcomes.”
Mr Stocker added: “The worry continues that government is content to wind down livestock farming in the UK, to fulfil climate commitments and grand images of high standards – and then scour the world to feed our nation from sources that are out of sight.
“To me this shows our future can only be in our hands – it is down to us to promote British lamb and mutton to our domestic market, a market that currently takes over 65 per cent of our production, in a way that works for us.”
The agreement has also been described as “a blow for UK dairy” and voiced concern over what it could mean for future trade deals.
Dr Judith Bryans, Chief Executive of Dairy UK said of the Agreement: “Make no mistake, this trade deal is a blow for UK dairy. This Agreement will see tariffs eliminated over five years and with its lower production costs, New Zealand will be able to seize its opportunity to grow an unlimited market share for its dairy products here in the UK.
“While true this agreement comes with export opportunities for agriculture and UK dairy companies, the UK market is many times bigger than that of New Zealand and offers more opportunities to the agricultural sector there.
“At a time when the UK dairy sector is, quite rightfully, challenging itself to continuously raise its own sustainability credentials, when it is already one of the most sustainable in the world, this deal – like the one with Australia – will reduce our control over the environmental footprint of UK food consumption.”