UK farmers push for bigger role - and no tariffs for Irish beef

Minette Batters: calls for tariffs on Irish beef are ‘fanciful’
Minette Batters: calls for tariffs on Irish beef are ‘fanciful’
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The main UK farming body, the National Farmers' Union, is leading calls for British farmers to become the number one supplier of choice to the UK market in light of Brexit.

The NFU is releasing its vision for the UK agriculture sector, and says it wants British people to be able to enjoy more sustainable, quality British food at a range of different prices that suit all incomes.

However, current production levels in the UK mean it imports more than 50pc of the food it needs to feed its population - and much of that comes from Ireland.

As the UK leaves the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, the NFU has said food production should be recognised as in the national interest by the British government.

The call comes amid fears the Sainsbury's-Asda merger could create a retailing giant that will squeeze Irish suppliers hard.

However, the farming body has said it does not want tariffs on Irish beef. NFU president Minette Batters said that recent comments by British MP Jacob Rees-Mogg calling for tariffs on Irish beef are "fanciful".

"We want to retain a free and frictionless trading arrangement with the EU. We don't want a race to the bottom when it comes to standards.

"We don't want tariffs on Irish beef, we want to be able to carry on trading with Europe.

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"We value short supply chains, where we can produce it here or in Ireland. Why would we bring it in from farther afield? It would be very bad for farmers and growers if we opened the doors to lesser standards."

Speaking to the Irish Independent, the NFU president said she hopes Brexit will present the UK with an opportunity to grow its international exports abroad. However, she added that the main threat to British beef supplies is not Irish, but South American beef.

"(UK) farmers have raised their game and there is a strong will from consumers to buy and support British farmers. The threat for us and you is that we sign a Mercosur [a South American trade bloc] deal and we have South American beef or US beef here."

However, she said there is a worrying lack of reference to food and food production in relation to the UK government supporting its farmers and the majority of support reference was in relation to providing public goods.

She also said it was worrying that agriculture does not appear to be featuring in the wider trade package being negotiated with Europe.

"A no-deal situation is very bad for British agriculture - we need to agree a deal, " she said.

Last year, 50pc of Irish beef produce was exported to the UK, and Irish Farmers' Association president Joe Healy said the reality is that the UK is not self-sufficient in food and is unlikely to be in future. "There is a long history of trade between the two countries and the best outcome for all is the closest possible trading relationship to be maintained," he said.

He said a real concern for Irish farmers would be if the UK is free to pursue trade deals with non-EU countries with lower production standards than those countries that are in the EU.

Irish Independent