Northern Ireland eyes US lamb export agreement

The Northern Irish sheep industry is hopeful that exports of sheepmeat from the EU to the US could be put in place as early as 2017.

The news comes after the United States Department of Agriculture said it planned to relax its BSE and TSE restrictions, a development which has been welcomed by the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU).

Deputy president of the union Victor Chestnutt said that securing access for all agriculture products was a key priority for the UFU, labelling the proposed relaxation as a positive step in the right direction.

The UK is perhaps in a unique position given that it is expected we will soon begin a process to officially leave the EU, he said. However we would fully expect that until such times that the UK has officially left the EU that Defra and Daera [the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - part of the Northern Ireland executive] will work hard for local sheep producers ensuring our industry can source export opportunities in the US and other markets.

Chesnutt explained that lamb consumption in the US was relatively low compared to other meats, and that they are reliant on imports. He recognised that competition from New Zealand and Australia was strong, although he said that Northern Ireland had a unique product which would appeal to the needs of US consumers.

Aside of this news, obviously there is still uncertainty around what will happen with trade once the UK officially leaves the EU as it will have to renegotiate market access with many countries, he said. Given Northern Irelands dependence on exports, our agri-food industry certainly cannot afford any setbacks and we trust that the Daera minister will drive this message in her meetings with government and industry.

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