Brexit: Government warned not to 'sacrifice' sheep sector

The National Sheep Association is urging the government to 'stand by UK farmers' as further trade talks begin
The National Sheep Association is urging the government to 'stand by UK farmers' as further trade talks begin

Farmers have warned the government not to 'sacrifice' the sheep sector or 'undermine its values' when seeking free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

With the addition of the two countries, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the UK is now undertaking six new trade deals running alongside each other.

Having come from a position of not negotiating its own trade deals for years, industry groups see the UK currently undertaking a significant challenge.

The government has now been warned by the National Sheep Association (NSA) that every country was 'unique', and for sheep farming in particular, deals with NZ and Australia created a 'unique challenge'.

This is due to sheep farming - and the export of sheepmeat - belonging to large parts of New Zealand and Australia's industry.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: "We are talking here about the three largest sheepmeat exporting nations in the world, with the UK being additionally unique by having such a large population and consumer market.

“You can be sure that sheepmeat would only travel in one direction, in part because of population numbers, but also because our high production standards mean we can be undercut even though the product is travelling across the globe.

"It is not uncommon for nations to protect their agriculture industries for sound strategic reasons and this is exactly what we will expect from the UK government."

Mr Stocker added that the UK currently had a 'fine balance' with lamb and mutton exports, imports, and domestic consumption.

He said there was 'very real concern' that increasing tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for either New Zealand or Australia would 'damage' this balance and 'make no common sense at all'.

"We would have that concern in normal times but now, with future trade with the EU being uncertain, getting these deals wrong would have catastrophic effects for our industry," Mr Stocker explained.

“We have heard government commit to not compromising the UK market and our production standards time and time again, yet they won’t commit to it in legislation and as such it just leaves you feeling very nervous.”

NSA has urged the government to commit to ensuring equivalence in any trade deals in legislation before trade talks get underway.