To mark the first anniversary of the EU Referendum, Farmers Guardian has asked a number of key figures from the NFU to explain how things have changed for the industry over the past 12 months.
Livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe continues our week-long mini-series with an in-depth look at the beef and sheep sectors.
The key issue for the UK sheep sector is being able to maintain our ability to export to the European single market. France, followed by Germany and Belgium are our biggest markets by some distance – we export around 38-40 per cent of our total production there.
Without tariff-free access, our lamb we would simply lose this market which would have a dramatic impact on farm gate prices.
We are also concerned by the gradual decline in lamb consumption, so the whole supply chain needs to work harder to ensure the consistency and quality of the product, and to promote new cuts of lamb to a wider demographic which encourages younger people and families that do not currently eat much lamb.
The halal sector is extremely important here in the UK, but also in Europe. Muslims tend to eat around 4 times as much sheep meat when compared to the UK average of just 4.9kg per person per year.
We are also challenged by imported product, especially from New Zealand and less so from Australia. We have seen this trade change over the years as New Zealand send in added value cuts, which because of price, compete very well with British lamb and displace British in retail and especially in food service.
We would like to understand what the status of the existing EU-New Zealand tariff rate quota (TRQ) will be when we leave the EU.
We would also ask the UK Government to consider a TRQ for sheep meat imports which could draw down quota depending on domestic production, UK export volumes, domestic consumption and consumer demand, allowing imported product to make up any shortfall.
With have a slightly different situation for beef as we are only around 60 per cent self-sufficient, so we import around 270,000 tonnes per annum from Ireland alone.
However, we also export beef to Ireland and the Netherlands, only for it to return following further processing, so tariff barriers between the UK and EU could have a significant impact on trade flows.
We know Irish production is heavily reliant on the UK market. If access was restricted in any way, it will find its way onto the European market and displace EU domestic product, causing significant issues for producers in other member states.
In the EU, beef is deemed to be a sensitive product which has afforded it some protection from third country imports, particularly from south and north America.
We would like to see UK beef and lamb afforded sensitive status which might help limit imports produced to lower animal welfare and food safety standards.
This has come into focus more recently with the Brazilian meat scandal which highlighted long-term systemic fraud. Our aim must be to develop short and transparent supply chains where possible.