A free trade deal with New Zealand without specific protection of the UK sheepmeat market would indicate the Government is prepared to ’sacrifice’ the sector in order to gain other trade benefits.
National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker sounded the warning shot as Trade Secretary and former Defra Secretary Liz Truss met with New Zealand Trade Minister David Parker this week.
Ms Truss said on Twitter she wanted to ‘build our countries’ trading partnership as we leave the EU.
“I want [it] to be one of the first free trade agreements the UK signs as we become an independent trading nation once again. #readytotrade,” she tweeted.
But farmers and industry bosses were quick to point out the threat of such a deal.
Mr Stocker said: “Liz Truss will know very well from her time at Defra that any trade deal between the UK and NZ will not see British lamb heading in a NZ direction.
“There may be offers of help to access other global markets but you can be sure that NZ will be pushing to regain any Tariff Rate Quota that they might lose as part of 50/50 EU tariff split as we leave the EU, and this will leave our sheep farmers exposed in any times of global market disruption.”
Britain is the third largest exporter of sheepmeat while supplying the domestic market with about 65 per cent of production.
Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers and Farming Minister George Eustice have previously made verbal commitments that the home market would be protected by ensuring any imported lamb meets the same standards and expectations places on British producers, but that has done little to allay their fears.
Mr Stocker added: “We have written to Trade Minister Liz Truss to set out our concern and to warn that if Government actions undermine our industry it would be an unforgiveable indication of their attitude to sustainable food and farming here in the UK.”