Westminster has a key role to play in supporting farmers: Elliott

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Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Tom Elliott has said that the next Parliament will have a crucial role to play in the prospects for local agriculture.

Mr Elliott has identified trade with countries such as China and Australia as areas where progress must be made on export trade

The Ulster Unionist representative said: “Whilst much of the responsibility for local agriculture is devolved to the Assembly, the UK Parliament continues to have a hugely important role.

“For instance, as international trade is a reserved matter, DEFRA continue to take the lead on negotiations with potential new markets. This is hugely significant for the local sector as it seeks to open up new meat and dairy markets. If we are really to make the most of our local agri-food sector, DEFRA must now start making serious progress on export markets such as China, Australia and South Africa.

“In addition, there is a huge array of other decisions made in London that have a major impact on the viability of the local industry that the Assembly has little direct sway on. The DEFRA Minister effectively is our lead voice in the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.

“Of course the on-going roll-out of CAP reform is also another important issue of which many of the initial decisions, such as the budget allocations, are all made at a UK level. Indeed there is a real possibility that CAP will be reformed once more in 2017, in the guise of the mid-term review. It is essential that Northern Ireland’s case is made in those negotiations as other regions of the UK are likely to seek significant changes. Having an only limited representation in Westminster could seriously undermine our case.

“It is essential that Northern Ireland returns MPs that are prepared to stand up and argue the case for the local industry.

“It is ironic that the Party that currently holds the Ministerial portfolio for Agriculture in Northern Ireland is the same one that tries to argue that going to Westminster isn’t important. We need MPs in Parliament who will unashamedly promote Northern Ireland and its produce. By not going to the House of Commons, although they are still claiming their full expenses, Sinn Fein MPs are doing a major disservice to farmers across Northern Ireland.”