Margaret Ritchie in meat and dairy talks with UK farms minister George Eustice
MARGARET Ritchie has pressed British Agriculture Minister George Eustice on the need for resources for the north's meat export trade in light of the possible exit from the European Union as a result of referendum vote.
Following a meeting with Minister Eustice along with representatives of the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and International Meat Trade Association, the South Down MP has now made representations to him urging that resources are made available to prevent bottle necks in the meat export market access work, particularly with regard to meat establishment approval work, undertaken by the Food Standards Agency.
She said: “Lack of adequate resources in the meat trade export sphere have been a difficult challenge for several years and now need to be resolved and addressed. This is vitally important as export trade receipts are one of the corner stones of our local economy in Northern Ireland.
“Although free trade agreements cannot be discussed with third countries while the UK is still a member of the European Union, it is already in its gift to progress market access work for meat. Veterinary approval is something the government could achieve tangible outcomes for industry even whilst still a European Union member.
“For many years there have been discussions to update the veterinary export certification IT system. This project needs to be progressed, including the facility for e-certification – one which I have urged the Minister to progress to a successful conclusion.”
Ms Ritchie said she has told the Minister that if the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) wants to increase exports there must be adequate financial resourcing not only for the market access negotiations within the Department but also within the Food Standards Agency to undertake meat establishment approval work and at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha), which issues certificates once they have been agreed.
She added: “There is a real risk that if the UK does not have a trading arrangement with the European Union once, or if it leaves that UK meat exports to the European Union will face full duty. This will mean that generally it will not be economically viable to export to the European Union.”
Meanwhile Ms Ritchie has also been making ongoing representations to Defra to bring forward measures to protect the dairy industry which has been subject to and undermined in some instances by the volatility in the pricing and market situation.
She said: "Average prices have been consistently lower in Northern Ireland since spring 2014 due to the stronger links to the commodity markets and the greater reliance on export markets, and according to the Minister this has been taken into consideration when allocating the Exceptional Adjustment Aid funding from the European Commission announced in July and of which Northern Ireland will receive a proportionately higher share of £4.1 million."