Australian trade deal threat to UK sheep sector, says NSA
But NSA is seriously alarmed that Australia, a global sheep meat exporter, is proposing a free trade deal.
Australia currently has a quota to export just under 20,000 tonnes of sheep meat to the EU, which it fulfils every year. With an annual production of more than 700,000 tonnes, the country is very keen to open up more trade opportunities and is seizing on Brexit as an opportunity to renegotiate its EU quota.
They also have their eye on a separate UK deal, seeing this country as a prime destination for its lamb and mutton products.
Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, says: "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.
"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 being 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."
Recent figures from Meat and Livestock Australia show the country produced 516,366 tonnes of lamb and 196,040 tonnes of mutton in 2015/16, exporting 56% of total lamb production (worth $1.78 billion) and 91% of mutton production ($700 million). The main destinations were the Middle East, USA and China.
"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." ■