UK livestock sector vows to support trade post-EU
Published:  29 March, 2017

As Prime Minister Theresa May signed the papers triggering Article 50 this morning, the livestock industry has vowed to protect trade and welfare standards as the UK leaves the European Union. 

The National Pig Association (NPA) said that protecting pig producers and consumers was of the upmost importance, while calling for equivalent standards for meat imports and tariffs and quotas where standards fall short if necessary.

In addition, it said it wanted to see strict labelling laws put in place to provide clarity for consumers over differences in production standards.

Outlining its top priorities, the NPA wants to see:

• Retained free access to the Single Market
• Security for the UK pig industry in not being undermined by lower-standard imports
• Retained access to permanent EU labour, both skilled and unskilled.

According to the association, the UK pig industry exported more than 206,000 tonnes of pigmeat – worth £252 million – in 2017. Almost 60% of this went to, or via, the EU.

“A free trade deal with the EU is absolutely vital for the pig sector,” said NPA chairman Richard Lister. “Tariffs on pork exports, for example, of 45p/kg on carcases or 131p/kg for processed hams, would cripple our trade, slash profitability and export production overseas, particularly if equivalent tariffs were not levied on imports into the UK.

“If we leave without a trade deal, sensible transitional arrangements must be put in place.”

While a free trade deal with the EU is a priority, an even bigger concern for the NPA is the prospect of new trade deals that could make way for cheaper pork imports from countries where welfare standards are not as great as those in the UK.

“The recent Brazilian meat scandal has highlighted the inherent dangers in any potential new trade deals,” added Lister. “We don’t want imported meat produced to lower hygiene, welfare and traceability standards posing a threat to consumers and undercutting UK producers.

“We don’t want pork from the US, for example, from pigs reared using the growth promoter ractopamine or from sows reared in stall systems, outlawed in the UK since the late 1990s.”

He claimed that, should the industry lose access to EU labour, “there would simply not be a British pig industry as we know it today”.

“A survey of our members has highlighted the extent to which we rely on permanent, skilled and unskilled EU labour (by ‘unskilled’ we mean not educated to degree level), rather than short-term seasonal workers.”

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association (NSA), said that now we have approached the stage where Article 50 has been triggered, there are still a lot of unanswered questions for the sheep sector.

“Trade access continues to be the biggest topic of concern for sheep farmers and it is imperative that the best possible deal is done during the two-year exit period, with lamb exports neither being forgotten nor being used as a negotiating chip to benefit other industries,” he explained.

He added that he is worried that the support that British sheep producers receive from the Union is undermined. “NSA has been working hard to raise the profile of the sheep sector with Ministers, Defra and Treasury staff, but I fear the huge reliance of UK sheep farmers on EU trade is still not fully appreciated.”

President of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), Meurig Raymond, said that the UK's farming sector will only get the real deal out of talks if it's voice is heard by decision makers.

"Our industry is vital to Britain," said Raymond. "We have to take this opportunity to tell the country - and the world - of our high standards; of the pride we have in the food we produce and the importance of our industry. Farming and food production plays a crucial role in the life and economy of our country and therefore it is important this government ensures food and farming is at the forefront of their priorities as they negotiate our exit from the EU.

He highlighted that a report published by the NFU showed that for every £1 invested in farm support, the farming sector delivers £7.40 back to the UK economy.

“Agriculture is at the heart of this country of ours," he added. "It produces the raw ingredients for the largest manufacturing sector here – food and drink. This sector is worth £108 billion, employs nearly four million people and generates around £18 billion worth of export earnings annually.

“But it’s not just our core role in feeding the nation safe, high-quality food. Farming also plays an important role in managing the great British countryside - over 70 per cent of the UK’s land area is farmed, providing habitats for wildlife and iconic landscapes for us all to enjoy. This, too, has economic benefits for people living and working in rural communities as rural tourism is worth at least £2 billion a year."

Raymond said the NFU will continue to work with departments such as Defra, the Home Office and the newly created Business, Brexit and International Trade Depertments, but called on a collective and coherent voice to be heard.

"The more NFU members who can get involved and meet their MPs, the greater impact we will have together. We will also continue to liaise with other organisations, both within and beyond the farming sector.

“This is a monumental time in the nation’s history. We are being given a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of UK agriculture. We can now work with government to shape a domestic agricultural policy that promotes competitive, profitable and progressive farm businesses, designed to meet the specific needs of UK farmers.”

Click here for more industry reaction to Article 50.