South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has led an Ulster Farmers’ Union delegation to meet with EFRA Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss MP on the issue of exports and their pivotal importance to the agri-food industry and the local economy in Northern Ireland.
At the meeting the delegation argued for better access to new international markets for farmers and agri-processors. Ms Ritchie arranged the meeting in London to enable the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) to put their case directly to the top of Government in Westminster.
Speaking afterwards, Ms Ritchie said: “The meeting was productive and a great opportunity to outline the challenges facing the farming industry in the North, which is particularly reliant on exports. There is a concern among those within the farming and food processing sector that there are insufficient resources within the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to explore, pursue and acquire new international markets for our farm produce. The transparency of the exports licensing process emerged as a key issue and I will continue working to ensure the process is as open as possible and that Northern Irish goods are not left ‘at the back of the queue.’
“The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also indicated that she was visiting China next week to have high level ministerial meetings to pursue the approval of the certifications for the export of pork produce from the UK, and in particular Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State also indicated that DEFRA was pursuing the United States of America market for the export of beef products. She also agreed that a further meeting would take place with Ulster Farmers’ Union representatives and political representatives including myself with the Public Health and Food Agency in Britain to pursue the process of export certifications and new markets. The Secretary of State also pointed out the need for greater transparency in the export of farm produce.”
She added: “It is vital that our farmers obtain the support they need to export their produce to a changing global market, and the Government must do everything it can to open up international markets for the Northern Ireland farming industry. I will continue working with the UFU and others within the food processing sector to push the Government to bring down barriers to exports and find new opportunities both in Europe and beyond.”
The Ulster Farmers’ Union used the meeting to urge Liz Truss, to do more to encourage beef, lamb and pig meat exports.
The UFU pressed for quicker progress on access to new markets. It also asked the minister to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to deliver the export targets set by the industry in Northern Ireland.
The UFU delegation included deputy president, Ivor Ferguson, beef and lamb chairman, Crosby Cleland and hill farming chairman, Ian Buchanan. “As a region focused on exports it is vital we have access to as many markets as possible,” said Mr Ferguson. “The UK is our best paying market, but we need to be in a position where the local agri-food sector can react quickly to export opportunities, no matter where they arise,” he added.
The meeting allowed the UFU delegation to highlight issues relating to the current export position for beef, lamb and pig meat. “There was recognition from Liz Truss of the importance of exports to Northern Ireland. We were encouraged that she is prepared to focus on finding solutions to the industry’s concerns,” he said. As a result of the meeting a dialogue has been established between the UFU and local MPs with the DEFRA minister.
“We hope this will yield positive results for the local beef and lamb, and indeed pig industry,” said Mr Ferguson.