Cheap food could flood UK on back of free trade deals

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BBC journalist and political analyst Steve Richards believes that the UK could be flooded with cheap food if the UK signs-up to free trade deals with countries around the world, irrespective of whatever final Brexit deal is arrived at.

“The United States is the UK’s number one priority in this regard,” he said.

“If a free trade is arrived at between the two countries then Britain could find itself awash with cheap poultry and beef. The implications coming out of all this for the UK’s farming sector are obvious.”

Richards was the guest speaker at this week’s Northern Ireland Exporters Association (NIMEA) annual dinner.

The organisation’s chief executive Conall Donnelly also spoke at the event.

He said that the best possible Brexit deal for Northern Ireland centred on the UK remaining within the Single Market and the Customs Union, adding: “The consequences of a No Deal for Northern Ireland’s red meat sector are extremely serious. In fact a No Deal is now a reality for a number of NIMEA members given that product already dispatched to numerous export destinations will not arrive with customers until after March 29th.

“Unilateral trade liberalisation on the part of London could lead to large quantities of cheap food coming onto the UK. Farmers in Northern Ireland could not compete under such circumstances.”

Donnelly also highlighted the fact that a No Deal scenario could put future EU and third country market opportunities at risk.

He questioned the direction of travel Westminster is taking regarding the support arrangements that will be made available to the farming industry beyond Brexit.

“Production agriculture seems to be taking a back seat when compared to the focus that has been placed on the environment,” the NIMEA representative explained.

NIMEA president Campbell Tweedie said that farmers should be getting more for their beef.

He added: “But processors can only pay what the market can deliver. Meat companies operate on very tight margins. However, I can confirm that all the processors in Northern Ireland operate to the very highest standards.

“They are totally committed to paying the best possible price to their farmer-suppliers.

“The possibility of scandals taking place here of the type that we have seen recently in Brazil is unthinkable,” he added.