Sheep industry ‘seriously alarmed’ by potential Australian trade deal

The National Sheep Association (NSA) has expressed concerns over a proposed free trade deal from Australia – following on from the UK’s upcoming exit from the European Union. 

According to the NSA, Australia currently has a quota to export just under 20,000 tonnes of sheep meat to the EU which it fulfils every year.

Figures from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) indicate that on average, the UK accounted for 64% of all Australian beef and sheep meat exports to the EU annually, whilst the overall value of Australian red meat exports to the UK in 2015 was AUS$221.3 million. Beef made up $120.5m and sheep contributed $11.8m.

After the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Australia called for a free trade with Britain, which Prime Minister Theresa May described as “very encouraging”.

However, the NSA said it is “seriously alarmed” by this as Australia could use this as an opportunity to renegotiate the quantity it can export to the Union.

“NSA understands Australia has been pushing to increase its EU quota for many years now, so there is no doubt it would send larger amounts of sheep meat to Europe and the UK given the opportunity,” said Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive.

“The UK sheep sector is already suffering unacceptably high levels of imports of New Zealand lamb, much of which is sourced by retailers at times of the year when UK product is in plentiful supply. We would be keen to see an outcome of Brexit seeing tighter controls on New Zealand lamb being allowed into this country, and we certainly need to avoid making the situation worse by allowing Australian product to head our way too.”

Stocker highlighted that the UK both imports and exports lamb, which helps to balance supply and demand throughout the year and exploits ideal sheep producing conditions in the UK. “However, NSA believes more should be done to grow the UK domestic market and increase self-sufficiency in lamb production and consumption – especially as we do not know what access we will have to EU markets in the future,” he explained.

“We currently export around 36% of UK lamb, with France and the rest of the EU taking the majority of this. A priority for our sector is negotiating a trade deal with the EU post-Brexit.

“A free trade deal with Australia or New Zealand may be beneficial for some UK industries but could have a catastrophic effect on UK sheep farmers and we cannot sit back and be sacrificed for the benefit of others. Given the fundamental role our sheep sector has in maintaining the rural environment, landscape and community in the UK, we cannot afford to be overlooked in crucial trade negotiations. We encourage the UK government to work hard on these deals, but not to rush into agreements without considering the wider consequences.”

Meat Trades Journal is awaiting a response from MLA.

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