The UFU (Ulster Farmers’ Union) has expressed its concerns over the UK-New Zealand free trade agreement.
As reported by That’s Farming, negotiations launched on June 17th, 2020, and came to a close on October 20th, 2021, with an agreement in principle.
According to UFU president, Victor Chestnutt, this trade deal has “completely undermined” UK farming and local food production.
“Combined with the Australia agreement at the beginning of this year, the government has granted access to a significant increase of imported food allowing it into our market, with no guarantees about how it was produced or if it meets our world-leading standards.”
“To make the situation all the more dire, nothing of substance was gained for our farmers.”
He said the future of the “unique” farm family structure across Northern Ireland has become “very vulnerable” overnight.
He warned it could be “severely damaged” by the market access government has granted to NZ and Australia.
“It is extremely concerning for our red meat, dairy, and horticulture farm sectors and for the public.”
“Our consumers, who take pride in supporting local farmers for the work that they do producing high-quality, trustworthy, local food, looking after the environment, and boosting employment in rural areas, have been sold-out too.”
The farm leader said the government made “no attempt of communication” as to how they would work to protect local food production while trying to get a trade deal with New Zealand over the line.
He pointed out that farm businesses across Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK, are already enduring “substantially higher” input costs compared to farmers on the other side of the world. Besides, they are also dealing with ongoing labour availability.
“It seems that government are either oblivious to what farmers are dealing with or have chosen to dismiss it.”
“They have created unfair competition within our home market, which will affect the sustainability of our family farms in years to come.”
Now going forward, he said the government expects farmers to maintain the same high standards at a time of rising production costs.
He said they must compete against two of the world’s biggest exporting countries, minus the long-term, appropriate agri support required.
Chestnut added that New Zealand and Australia are renowned world exporters because of their governments’ strategic farming investments.
“The UK needs to adopt a similar approach to safeguard and strengthen our agri-food production.”
“As it stands, it is very hard to see the positives of this trade deal. Other countries will be watching this development with a growing drive to secure a similar agreement.”
He said it is “extremely worrying” that with trade deals continuing to develop, a statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC), which the government announced almost a year ago now, has not been established.
The TAC would be tasked with conducting parliamentary scrutiny of individual trade deals that the UK are pursuing, specifically the impact on agriculture.
“This work would have been hugely beneficial during the process of New Zealand and Australia trade deal discussions.”
“The TAC needs to set up immediately to ensure meaningful consideration is given by parliamentarians of all future trade deals that the UK is endorsing.”
Concluding, he called on the government to explain the rationale behind this new trade deal with New Zealand immediately.
It said it should highlight how it will benefit UK agriculture, its world-leading standards and local food production’s future.