Ritchie urges EFRA Secretary to protect export sector

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SDLP South Down MP Margaret Ritchie has urged the Secretary of State for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that the food exports sector is protected in the current efficiency measures driven by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

She said: “This morning’s indicated announcement from the Treasury that the DEFRA Department will be one of the four departments that will be subjected to the 30% savings drive as part of the preparations for the Comprehensive Spending Review due in late November signals the need for the EFRA Secretary of State to accelerate her work to ensure the protection of the food exports section which are critical to local economic growth and production. It is also vitally important that the Chancellor of the Exchequer protects and ensures the development of all farm produce to existing and new countries.

“Food exports are critical to the agri-food industry and to our local economy in Northern Ireland. This sector of agricultural exports is dealt with by the EFRA Department in London. It has become apparent over the last few years that the export section in terms of staff and funding resources has been subjected to cuts. From this morning’s indicated announcement, it looks as if the trend of cuts in DEFRA is to continue. Over the last few years this has led to delays in processing export certificates as well as searching and exploring new markets for our red meat sector in China, North America, and in overseas markets. Only last week, I brought a delegation from the Ulster Farmers’ Union to meet the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding the need to protect the export division through the expeditious processing of export certificates as well as the research work and visitations required in accessing new markets.

“The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been made aware of the challenges facing our local economy and how exports and trade are critical to our local agri-food industry. She must now step up to the plate and working with the local Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Northern Ireland Executive ensure the protection and development of the food exports division and overseas division to provide a comfortable wealth and income cushion to our local agri-food industry, farm producers and economy.”