British farmers have 'nothing to fear' from NZ-UK free trade deal - industry groups

Farmers in the UK say a free trade deal would "spell the end" for them.
Farmers in the UK say a free trade deal would "spell the end" for them. Photo credit: Getty Images

Industry groups in New Zealand say British farmers have "nothing to fear" from a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, as farmers in the United Kingdom warn such a deal could lead to local standards being lowered and "spell the end" for them.

Officials are currently negotiating the terms of a post-Brexit trade deal between New Zealand and the UK, with Damien O'Connor, who is both Minister of Agriculture and of Trade and Export Growth, earlier this month saying representatives on both sides had agreed to "rapidly lift the tempo of talks".

Chief negotiataters would now meet monthly, ahead of the next round of formal talks scheduled for June and July, O'Connor said.

New Zealand is pushing for the removal of tariffs on agricultural exports, but the topic remains a sticking point in negotiations, with industry groups here saying the market access offered so far by the UK "falls short of the ambitions for the agreement" and is "deeply disappointing".

Australia is also pushing for the complete removal of tariffs on their exports, with the BBC reporting this week a deal had been agreed to which would phase out import taxes - including on agricultural products - over 15 years.

But farmers in the UK say allowing tariff-free imports from countries like New Zealand and Australia would have potentially devastating effects for local food producers.

In an opinion piece published recently in the Mail on Sunday, the president of UK's National Farmers' Union, Minette Batters, said the free trade deals would "make life unbearable for small British farms".

"I have huge admiration for farmers across the world, not least our cousins in Australia and New Zealand," Batters wrote.

"But their farms are very different to ours and on a very different scale. And were we to throw our doors wide open to their exports, the stark differences in the way we operate would spell major trouble."

She said the only way UK farmers could compete on price would be to drop their standards.

"The plain truth is this: removing tariffs for vast, unmanageable volumes of Australian beef or New Zealand lamb - or, God forbid, allowing zero tariffs on all their produce - could spell the end."

But Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of New Zealand's Meat Industry Association (MIA) told Newshub the Farmers' Union "has nothing to fear from a free trade agreement".

"New Zealand is a longstanding and trusted trading partner of the United Kingdom. For over 140 years, New Zealand has supplied Britain with safe, nutritious and healthy food during the off season of British lamb production," she said.

"Grass-fed red meat is seasonal, meaning New Zealand is an ideal trade partner for the UK as trade ensures there is a year-round supply of high-quality meat on supermarket shelves, especially during the busy Christmas period where British production is low.

"As the UK can only produce 75 percent of the beef that it consumes, it will require imports to make up the difference. We believe that those imports should come from countries that can demonstrate that they are equivalent or better to UK standards, such as New Zealand."

Her view was echoed by Sam McIvor, chief executive of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, who added that New Zealand farmers were among the "most environmentally and ethically responsible red meat producers in the world."

"They have farmed without subsidies since the 1980’s while meeting high animal and environmental standards," he said.