Industry at a crossroads

THE BRITISH red meat industry is at a crossroads and with beef and lamb producers just ending their first year of the Single Payment Scheme, many are still weighing up their options in a new subsidy-free world.

The comments were made by Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) chairman, Peter Barr, at the MLC Outlook Conference 2006.

Mr Barr said although the pig industry had made money this year, it had still found it hard to compete with cheap, lower standard imports and needed more confi dence for the future. On a global front, the competitive challenges discussed at last year's Outlook continued to grow.

"While a final WTO agreement has yet to be reached, the industry fears further trade liberalisation and greater access by Third World countries to EU markets. The good news is that meat demand and consumption remains robust in the UK, Europe, and globally."

Although there were still concerns about possible short-term market pressures with the ending of the OTM scheme, he said industry had got off to a good start. The key objective now was to have normal exports restored. He said any WTO agreement had to be balanced and fair and must recognise the substantial steps already taken by the EU to reduce tradedistorting domestic support and to open its markets to the poorest countries.

"Any agreement must also take into account the EU's high production standards and non-trade concerns, as well as the role farming plays in fostering sustainable economic, social and environmental development across the EU."

He said the main beneficiaries of free trade would be countries like the US, Australia and New Zealand along with the more sophisticated, socalled developing countries, such as Brazil- not the poorer African countries. He was concerned that beef faced the greatest challenge in respect of market access. "I urge the Government and the EC to maintain some reasonable measure of protection for this sector."