The Government has announced the launch of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations with two of the world’s largest sheepmeat exporters, sparking concern that the UK’s domestic sheep market could be severely undermined.
UK-Australia negotiations are due to start on June 29, and talks with New Zealand on July 13.
The Government said the agreements would help ’boost two-way trade in goods and services worth £18.1billion and £2.9b in 2019 respectively’.
But National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker was quick to raise his concerns that deals with Australia and New Zealand could undermine the UK domestic sheep market.
Mr Stocker said: “New Zealand and Australia have a low consumer base and a high production volume – they are net exporters and they will be looking to secure greater freedom to sell product into the UK.
“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.”
NFU chief EU and international trade advisor Gail Soutar echoed these comments, pointing out the difference in population size between the UK and the two countries could allow the overall trade deficit in agricultural products to widen to the detriment of UK farmers.
“With talks now underway with the EU, USA, Australia and New Zealand, our negotiators must be mindful that any market access concessions granted across each of these negotiations individually may lead to a significantly negative cumulative effect on the UK industry,” she said.
Mr Stocker added the UK currently has a fine balance of lamb and mutton exports, imports and domestic consumption and warned ‘increasing tariff rate quotas (TRQs) for either New Zealand or Australia will damage this balance and make no common sense at all’.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We will pursue deals that open up new opportunities for our farmers, businesses and consumers, support job creation and strengthen our economies as we recover from the impacts of Covid-19.”