Fears that Ministers at the Department for International Trade are keen to pursue a cheap food agenda have been exacerbated following recent comments from Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox.
When asked by Swansea MP Geraint Davies to provide some reassurance to sheep farmers who face 40 per cent tariffs under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and may have to compete with New Zealand lamb, Dr Fox said the Government would want to take into account a balance between UK producer and consumer interests when striking any new trade deals.
He then went on to say an ‘open global trading environment’ was likely to make the wages of those on low incomes go further in response to a question about what WTO tariffs would do to the price of food – implying it would become cheaper after Brexit.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said Dr Fox’s comments ‘exposed challenges the NSA has feared’.
“Despite constant reassurances to us by Defra Ministers, it is clear there are serious divisions at the Government top table, with conflicts between valuing the UK’s high-standard farming and food industry and following a cheap food policy which pushes environmental, welfare and social problems out of sight.
“Dr Fox’s responses conflict with modern thinking on the importance of food security, good nutrition and health, high environmental and welfare standards as well as the future challenges climate change is predicted to present. It shows what a battle we have ahead of us.”
The comments came just weeks after Farmers Guardian revealed Ministers at the Department of International Trade did not meet a single farming group in the three months following the referendum – despite meeting representatives from the financial and banking sector 35 times.
NFU Brexit and Trade chief Nick von Westenholz, however, remained upbeat after seeing the exchanges. He said he was ‘confident the Government will recognise the farming sector as a key priority and ensure the right trade conditions during formal Brexit negotiations’.