NSA expresses disappointment in Government’s UK/NZ trade ‘agreement in principle’

21st October 2021

The announcement that an ‘Agreement in Principle’ has been reached for a new trade deal between the UK and New Zealand risks undermining UK sheep farming and the standards that the country’s hard-working shepherds adhere to.
Reacting to the announcement of the agreement the National Sheep Association (NSA) is deeply disappointed and concerned for its future impact on the UK sheep sector.
The trade deal now gives New Zealand the go ahead to export an additional 35,000 tonnes of sheep meat during the first four years of the agreement, and a further 50,000 tonnes from year five. This is in addition to the existing tariff-rate quota (TRQ) held as part of the WTO agreement that already allows New Zealand to export 114,000 tonnes to the UK each year. The new agreement will see all quotas removed by year 15 meaning New Zealand will have tariff and duty free access for unlimited supplies of sheep meat product to be exported to the UK .
This agreement in principle follows quickly on the heels of a similar agreement in principle with Australia – these two nations being the largest exporters of sheep meat globally, with Australia having been gifted substantial increases in sheep meat access to the UK.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive comments: “For all the warm words we’ve heard from our Government this news is highly disappointing, even though I’d say it’s no surprise. You only have to see the statements being made by the red meat sector in New Zealand for evidence they intend to send more and more sheep meat in our direction, and this in addition to the increase in access by Australia means together, in just over a decade, these two countries will have access to our entire volume of lamb consumption.
“Although the Government has long made its intentions clear over trade liberalisation the one thing they have promised us is protection of the high standards of production, environmental protection and animal welfare that British farmers adhere to. But here, in the agreement in principle, in black and white, the get out clause is clear for all to see – recognition that New Zealand and the UK’s farming systems are different but provide comparable outcomes.”
NSA is frustrated that the trade deal will dismiss differences in the countries’ farming standards meaning requirements for criteria such as journey times that are seen as of upmost importance in the UK will just be ignored by the new deal. Similarly, NSA believes that Rules of Origin will ease the way for more imported ingredients to be used in multi-ingredient foods, without the buyer being aware of what they are eating.

Mr Stocker continues: “The worry continues that Government is content to wind down livestock farming in the UK, to fulfil climate commitments and grand images of high standards – and then scour the world to feed our nation from sources that are out of sight. To me this shows our future can only be in our hands – it is down to us to promote British lamb and mutton to our domestic market, a market that currently takes over 65% of our production, in a way that works for us.”

The devolved UK nations have also expressed concern over the agreement, with NSA Wales/Cymru Development Officer Helen Roberts commenting: "This announcement has come has no surprise on the back of what we have heard about the Australia deal. Welsh sheep farmers will be left feeling undermined by a Westminster Govt which fills us with false promises and fails to deliver. We now look to the Welsh Govt to re-think its future farming schemes when it launches the Welsh Agricultural Bill. The world of Welsh farming is in a totally different place from when we started discussions over a new scheme. If we are not careful the whole patchwork of the rural economy will be eroded and there will be an uncertain future for the next generation."

NSA Scottish Region Chair Jen Craig added: "NSA Scotland is dismayed yet again that our elected representatives in Westminster are showing a complete lack of understanding of how their new trade deals are likely to impact on the sheep sector. Yet another tariff free access for a major sheep producing nation to the UK could be devastating for Scottish sheep farmers.The deal offers a lot to NZ sheep farmers and very little to UK sheep farmers and that is completely unacceptable. Our sheep farmers time and time again have had looming threats held over their heads and whilst Brexit was promised to be an opportunity, we have not yet seen any reward thorughout the FTA process to date."

She continued: "Our nation's sheep farmers strive to produce the most natural, sustainable and nutritious protein source globally and the recognition and reward for this is sorely in need of improvement. We need significant safeguards and committment shown to our industry and equivalent standards of production is a starting point."
Further information and detail on the New Zealand Agreement in Principle can be found available here.