The NFU has raised concerns about an EU-UK agreement on post-Brexit trade quotas which could see New Zealand double its exports of sheep meat to the UK.
British and European negotiators recently announced they had hashed out a deal to split the EU’s tariff rate quotas (TRQs), which allow certain amounts of agricultural produce to enter the bloc from countries outside with low or no tariffs.
The agreement was based on historical trade volumes, and farming groups originally accepted it as fair, but greater scrutiny of the deal has revealed the UK would have to accept a percentage of the unused part of the quota based on use.
In practical terms, this means the UK, with a population of 65 million, would take 112,000 tonnes of the 228,000 tonne New Zealand quota, while the EU27, with a population of 450 million, would take just 116,000 tonnes.
John Royle, chief livestock adviser at the NFU, said: “We did not realise this was part of the offer.
“Use is understandable, but a percentage of the unused quota based on use clearly bumps up the amount which can come to the UK significantly.
“This may be a fair way of doing things, but there is no account of self-sufficiency, the size of the market, or what happens if we do not get direct access to Europe.
“We want a closer examination of whether this is the right thing to do.”
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe, who spent this week in Brussels, said European farmers saw the arrangement as a ‘good deal’, because it would limit the amount of product which ends up on their market.
“The Europeans have been saying, ‘you brought it in, perhaps you should take it all’”, Mr Sercombe added, in reference to the UK’s push for quotas for commonwealth countries when it first joined the European Economic Community (EEC).
Though several big agricultural exporters have challenged the EU-UK deal, EU officials believe the agreement is ‘sound and deliverable’ because WTO rules focus upon quantity, not quality, of access.
“From a UK perspective, for every tonne we have to accept through a TRQ, we must have a tonne to export to the EU”, Mr Sercombe said.
“Selling as much as we export is the key. If we were unable to export 50,000 tonnes, it would have a devastating impact on the UK market.”