Agriculture in Northern Ireland will need to fundamentally restructure itself if the industry is to compete in a world which will see the UK enter into free trade deals with countries such as New Zealand and the world’s other ‘food super powers’.
This was the view expressed by Sammy Wilson MP at the recent DUP annual conference.
Asked if the UK could be swamped with food imports in the event of it doing free trade deals with countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and Brazil and how such circumstances might impact on local agriculture, Wilson said that all new trading arrangements would be phased in over a period of time.
He added: “We are probably talking about 10 years. This is what happened when New Zealand decided to adopt a free trading approach with the rest of the world. I see no reason why the same conditions would not be allowed to apply here in Northern Ireland.
“The transition period will allow local agriculture to adapt its farming practices in order to meet these changing circumstances.”
Wilson stressed that Northern Ireland’s food industry is already exporting to numerous countries outside the European Union.
“There is no reason why we can’t build on this for the future,” he said.
Newry and Armagh MLA William Irwin also attended the conference. He said that cross-border movements in milk and livestock would remain unfettered, irrespective of what Brexit deal is finally arrived at.
“No one wants a hard border on the island of Ireland,” he said.
“On that basis, I am confident that some arrangement will be arrived at to ensure that current cross border trading practices in livestock and agricultural produce will be maintained.”
Commenting on the support mechanisms that will be made available to the farming sectors post Brexit, the Loughgall dairy farmer commented: “The UK is currently 63% self sufficient in food. I would prefer to see this figure up at 80%.
“Making this happen will require the UK government to support production agriculture in a meaningful way.”
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson MP was one of the key speakers at this year’s conference. He confirmed that all future trade deals agreed by the UK would have zero quotas and zero tariffs.
He specifically highlighted the potential of Britain forging stronger relationships with countries that could supply food at competitive prices.