Welsh farmers warn of free trade New Zealand deal

The Farmers' Union of Wales (FUW) has warned a free trade deal with New Zealand would not benefit UK livestock producers, amid prospects of the ‘Hard Brexit’ pursued by prime minister Theresa May.

The FUW voiced its fears following Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit speech on 17 January.

According to the Union, the prospect of a free trade deal with New Zealand, and the UK leaving the Single Market and Customs Union is the ‘perfect storm’ for Welsh agriculture.

“The livestock producers which make up the vast majority of Welsh farmers are particularly reliant on exports to the continent, and we have made it clear since the referendum that full and unfettered access is essential to Wales,” commented FUW president Glyn Roberts.

The president explained that around 30% of Welsh lambs were exported to continental Europe. Different demands in the food supply chain across the EU could also threaten the utilisation of the whole carcase, he said.

“Certain cuts of meat are preferred in the UK, while others are preferred on the continent, so in order to make up the value of a carcase it is essential that current markets are kept open.”

Roberts said that he wrote to former Prime Minister David Cameron about the threat that a free trade deal with New Zealand would present to the industry. He said that such a deal would have a limited positive effect on the Welsh sector.

“New Zealand has a population of around 4.5 million, which is about 1% of the size of the EU, and is 11,500 miles away,” he said.

“A free trade agreement may be a great opportunity for New Zealand, but the benefits for the UK as a whole are zero, and for agriculture are extremely negative.”

He expressed concern that the deal was being proposed for political expediency. Gaining a market of 4.5 million on the other side of the world would not make up for the loss of a 500 million-consumer market at its doorstep, he added.

While the NUW criticised PM Theresa May’s announcement that the UK would be leaving the Single Market, the Union did welcome the role that devolved administrations will play in planning the departure from the EU, saying it would provide more clarity. “That’s something we asked for since the referendum result,” said Roberts. “Now we know what we are dealing with and what our starting position is.”

He called on devolution to be respected, while praising May’s recognition that Wales was different to the UK. “With this in mind and irrespective of what trade deals are in place post-Brexit, within the UK, Welsh farmers will compete against their counterparts in other devolved regions. We therefore need a common framework across the UK which minimises unfair competition and market distortion.”

The NUW called for a UK agricultural framework to be put in place to prevent unfair competition between devolved regions, while protecting and securing long-term funding for agriculture and respecting devolved powers over agriculture.

Within this framework, it added, there ought to be flexibility to allow devolved governments to make decisions appropriate to their regions.

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