Future trade deals with US a threat to farming: UFU

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says negotiating objectives published by the United States of America (USA) for a potential UK/USA trade deal make for grim reading for farmers.

UFU president Ivor Ferguson said: “The US objectives do not come as a surprise. A trade deal that accepts US production standards and practices and allows full access to the UK’s food market has always been a priority for them. However, we have been adamant from the outset – any future trade deals, including with the USA, must not allow imported food produced to lower standards than those required here.

“Ultimately, this would undercut local farmers, making them uncompetitive and would have a serious and detrimental impact on farmers across the UK.”

The UFU says UK consumers enjoy the third most affordable food in the world, produced to some of the highest animal welfare, food hygiene and environmental standards on the planet; as well as some of the most stunning landscapes.

Mr Ferguson continued: “Farmers work hard to produce the high quality food consumers’ demand and to look after the country’s cherished countryside. It would be a great disservice to the wider public and the farming community if these assets were sacrificed for a trade deal. We cannot allow food products produced at a lower standard, at a lower cost to flood the UK market and undermine NI farm family businesses.”

The union’s president believes now is the time for the UK government and politicians to get behind the UK’s farming industry.

“Brexit presents us with many opportunities. We are world leaders in food production and environmental standards and we should build on these strengths as we look to secure future trade deals. Using agri-food and farm family businesses as a bargaining chip is unacceptable. High quantities of lower standard, lower cost imports will considerably weaken our industry and pose a threat to the UK’s overall food security,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has cautioned that standards of animal health and welfare should not be undermined at any cost by a potential UK/USA trade deal. This comes in response to the publication of the USA’s negotiating objectives for a deal.

BVA says the UK should prioritise the health and welfare of farmed animals in any trade negotiations. With the USA objectives now tabled, BVA reiterates its calls for government not to undermine current farming and agricultural systems working to high standards with the import of animal products that may not meet these.

BVA President, Simon Doherty said: “The UK must make the health and welfare of farmed animals a priority in any trade negotiations to ensure that any products coming into the UK meet the same high standards expected of UK farmers.

“BVA is concerned that if lower standard products are allowed to enter the UK, it would become difficult for consumers to distinguish between the two and thus make informed choices about the products they buy.

“Within the UK these goods could become indistinguishable from UK produce, jeopardising the ability of UK farmers to trade using the good reputation of the UK as a high animal health and welfare producer. Allowing animal products onto the UK market which do not comply with EU regulations, will mean the need for veterinary checks on UK goods entering the EU Single Market would rise. This would place additional delays on UK producers selling into the EU.”

The Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) has aired concerns about future trade deals with third countries in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

These negotiation objectives, which were published on February 28, include streamlining of regulations, for example on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards (SPS) and the reduction or elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers for American agri-food products.

LMC Chief Executive, Ian Stevenson, warned that Northern Ireland’s beef and lamb producers need to be protected when signing future trade deals to ensure industry standards are not undermined.

“It is unthinkable that UK standards of food production could possibly be undermined in the interests of signing new trade deals with third countries after Brexit,” he said.

“Northern Ireland’s beef and lamb producers and processors are immensely proud of the standards that their industry operates to, not just in terms of EU standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection, but also the voluntary assurance programmes that are operated by industry to help to underpin the specifications of customers and meet the quality expectations of their end consumers.”

Whilst Mr Stevenson recognises the importance of securing trade deals going forward, he says the UK must not leave itself in a position where the industry could be exposed to unfair competition from lower cost and lower standard products entering the local market.

He continued: “The UK agriculture and food industry is well respected around the world for the safety and quality of its output. It’s imperative that the industry is not exposed after Brexit to a trading environment that would set aside current safeguards and allow lower cost and lower standard product to enter the UK market. If this was to happen, it would undermine the many decades of investment that has been made by industry towards quality improvement, health and safety, legislative compliance, worker welfare, food production systems and supply chain integrity whilst at the same time, producing affordable and safe food for consumers.

“Within Northern Ireland we fully understand the importance of two-way trade as we have to sell over 90 per cent of our beef and lamb output outside the region. We are keen to grow our access to more market opportunities around the world but market access must be fair and based on sound principles. It must not erode the foundations on which our critically important agri-food industry is built.”