CETA trade deal could be a dry run for what is to come

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This week saw the European Parliament vote through the CETA trade deal with Canada. This makes provision for 50,000t of Canadian beef – mostly high quality cuts – to be exported on a tariff free-basis into the EU market.

So it will be interesting to see how much of this meat ends up in the UK prior to the Brexit deal taking effect.

Given that Britain sits at the top of the EU beef prices league at the present time, I sense that our Canadian friends have been focussing on the UK, where beef is concerned, for the past number of months.

At the very least, the CETA deal will give the red meat industry here in Northern Ireland some sense of the competition coming down the track, once the UK starts forging its own trade deals with countries around the world. And, in this context, one has to be extremely concerned for the local farming and food sectors, given that the Prime Minister Theresa May has already identified a selection of the world’s agri-food power houses as potential trade partners for the future!

The list, which is still growing, currently includes New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States.

Striking trade deals is one thing. But giving countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the United states tariff-free access to the UK market with beef, dairy and other food products is something else entirely. The reality is that the UK’s farming and food sectors must be fully protected in the context of future trade deals which the British government commits to.

At a very fundamental level, there must be absolute parity, where production standards are concerned. If these other countries cannot meet our traceability, animal welfare and environmental criteria then they must not be allowed to export food into the UK, under any circumstances. Moreover, the UK supermarkets must be told that they cannot use imported foodstuffs in ways that undercut produce coming from local farms.

Let’s put it this way: when it comes to Canada and the US, for example, running the rule over the criteria applied to future food imports from the UK, they will come up with every obstacle in the book in order to make this process as cumbersome as possible!