Dismay as Ulster farmers ‘overlooked’
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says many Northern Ireland farmers have been left struggling with vital aspects of their farm businesses because of trade disruptions caused by the Northern Ireland Protocol since it came into effect on 1 January 2021.
Various issues continue to cause chaos with the most recent being the official certification of arable seed for planting this spring.
Other examples include residency periods for livestock that have travelled to Great Britain (GB) to be shown or for sale before re-entry into Northern Ireland, livestock identification changes and certification requirements for freedom from soil or other potential contaminants for machinery and rooted seedling plants/trees.
Not to mention extra costs for NI agri-food processors.
UFU president Victor Chestnutt said: “Farmers have been left high and dry since the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol
“It has caused constant chaos in various trade areas that are a key part of many farm businesses across Northern Ireland and yet very little has been done to address the issues.
“To say farmers are frustrated is an understatement, they are struggling and losing patience.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol has put the clampers on farm activities that they have been doing for generations.
“The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to allow trade flows to continue.
“However, trade flows that have existed for years are now being disrupted because of it.
“The UFU demand immediate action and ask the DAERA Minister to urgently assist to resolve these issues.”
The transition period took place from 31 January - 31 December 2020 but because the UK/EU only reached a trade agreement on Christmas Eve, the transition period effectively didn’t happen.
The UFU have been engaging in meetings with the UK/EU Joint Committee chairmen and the EU’s Special Advisor on the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
UFU office bearers have also been in involved in ad-hoc technical meetings with UK government officials on specific issues as they arise.
Mr Chestnutt said: “Despite the numerous meetings and also the one-sided action displayed by the UK government in some instances recently such as the extension of the supermarket grace period and the temporary technical approach on phased compliance for plants and agricultural machinery with soil attached, many of these issues remain unresolved.
“As farmers we feel that we are being overlooked with everyone believing that all of NI’s problems have been sorted simply because of the recent unilateral extension of these grace periods by the UK government.
“Farming’s issues weren’t covered and are still very real.”
Last week, the UK government announced they would delay the introduction of border checks from the EU into GB. A number of these were to begin next month but have been postponed until October at least.
Indeed, checks on live animals and low-risk plant products will only be taking place from March 2022 and yet corresponding checks for GB to Northern Ireland trade were implemented from 1 January this year. The UFU says this needs to be reciprocal.
“The EU/UK need to recognise that on 1 January 2021 the whole of the UK was uniquely aligned with EU rules and it’s likely that close alignment will continue as we move forward. The introduction of additional physical checks or documentary arrangements should only be introduced when one chooses to differ.
“We are supportive of UK/EU alignment or a bilateral agreement on agri-food standards and have been proactively conveying this.”
The engagement with Northern Ireland regarding trade disruption has been poor to date and while there is commitment to improve, the UFU stresses that the time to address the many issues is running out and fast.
“Now is the time when sheep need to be moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland and seeds needs to be brought from GB to Northern Ireland for spring sowing of cereals. Seasons do not wait for bureaucracy. Action needs to be taken now,” concluded the UFU president.