Australian trade deal a potential threat to UK sheep sector, warns NSA

The National Sheep Association (NSA) is encouraged to see activity already taking place to negotiate trade agreements for when the UK leaves the European Union '“ but 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 million tonnes of sheep meat to the EU, which it fulfils every year. With an annual production of more than 700 million 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.

Mr Stocker continues: “The UK is currently an importer and exporter of lamb, which helps balance supply and demand through the year and exploits ideal sheep producing conditions in the UK.

“However, NSA believes more should be done to grow the UK domestic market and increase self-sufficiency in lamb production and consumption – especially as we do not know what access we will have to EU markets in the future.

“We currently export around 36% of UK lamb, with France and the rest of the EU taking the majority of this. A priority for our sector is negotiating a trade deal with the EU post-Brexit.

“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.”