Northern Ireland news

New Zealand trade deal could be disaster for Northern Ireland farmers, Edwin Poots says

Minister for Agriculture and Environment Edwin Poots. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Jonathan McCambridge, PA

A free trade deal between the UK and New Zealand could be a “disaster” for farmers in Northern Ireland, Stormont’s Agriculture Minister has said.

Edwin Poots said it was disappointing that there had not been greater involvement with the devolved authorities in negotiating the deal which was announced by Boris Johnson last month.

The Government has said the deal would cut red tape for businesses and end tariffs on exports.

While the free trade agreement (FTA) has been agreed in broad terms, the legal text is to be finalised over the coming months.

Mr Poots said he had written to Westminster Environment Secretary George Eustice to express his concerns.

The DUP Agriculture Minister added: “I have long maintained that tariff and quota protection must be retained for sensitive agricultural products with any increase in market access being limited via tariff rate quotas.

“Any imports must also meet the high environmental, animal and plant health, animal welfare and food safety standards that apply to domestic production.

“I have been clear in my discussions with UK ministers that tariff-free access to the UK market for New Zealand farmers’ produce is a very serious threat to our farmers, even if that access is phased in over a number of years.”

Mr Poots said: “New Zealand is a very significant and competitive beef, sheep and dairy exporter and has the potential to quickly increase exports further with a view to targeting the UK market.

“I fear that if the approach that the UK Government has taken with Australia and New Zealand is confirmed in the ratified FTA, then the agriculture sector in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will in the future come under severe pressure from imports with a resulting negative impact on farm incomes and viability.

“This would be a disaster for our producers and rural communities and cause serious issues for food security at times when global supply chains are disrupted.

“It is absolutely crucial that Northern Ireland’s agriculture sector is protected and the integrity of our food standards are maintained.

“I am very disappointed that there has not been greater involvement of devolved authorities in the negotiations and this is something that needs to change in the future, given that this deal has the potential to have a significant impact on agriculture, which is a devolved matter.

“I hope the Government will urgently rethink the approach adopted to agricultural market access.”

A spokesperson for the Department for International Trade said: "Maintaining high standards is a red line in all our trade negotiations, and this agreement with New Zealand does not compromise the UK's environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards.

"Farmers will continue to thrive through our deal with New Zealand.

"Tariff liberalisation for beef and lamb can be staged over time and will give UK farmers time to adjust. New Zealand already have tariff-free access through its WTO quota, but in 2020 used less than half that quota.

"This deal will pave the way to joining the Indo-Pacific free trade area that offers huge opportunities for Northern Ireland's farmers and food producers."

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