‘Hard to see positives’ in deal

The future of Northern Ireland’s unique farm family structure has become “very vulnerable overnight”, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has stated.

UFU president Victor Chestnutt.
UFU president Victor Chestnutt.

The comments came following a trade deal agreement in principle between the UK and New Zealand announced earlier today.

UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, said UK farming and local food production has been “completely undermined” by the 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,” Mr Chestnutt added.

“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.

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“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.”

Mr Chestnutt claimed there had been “no attempt of communication” made by the government in relation to how they will protect local production, while trying to get the trade deal with New Zealand over the line.
He continued: “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 rising production costs and compete 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.

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“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.”

The UFU president said it is “very hard to see the positives” of the trade deal and believes other countries will be watching 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.

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“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.”

Mr Chestnutt concluded: “Government must explain the rationale behind this new trade deal with New Zealand immediately, highlighting how it will benefit UK agriculture, our world leading standards and the future of local food production.”

The National Sheep Association have also said the ‘agreement in principle’ risks “undermining UK sheep farming”, as well as those standards adhered to by hard-working shepherds.

The NSA reacted to the announcement with deep disappointment and concern over the impact on the UK sheep sector.
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.

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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.

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.

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“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.”
The association is frustrated that the trade deal will dismiss differences in the countries’ farming standards, meaning requirements for criteria such as journey times, that are seen as of upmost importance in the UK, will be ignored by the new deal.

Similarly, NSA believes that Rules of Origin will ease the way for more imported ingredients to be used in multi-ingredient foods, without the buyer being aware of what they are eating.
Mr Stocker continued: “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.”