Northern Ireland farmers fear trade ‘no man’s land’

Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol has left local farmers in a “no man’s land” amid concerns they will be unable to benefit from new international trade deals, MPs have been told.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 8:09 am
Victor Chestnutt
Victor Chestnutt

Victor Chestnutt, president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, said the unique regulatory position Northern Ireland has found itself in could frustrate the efforts of producers to export overseas.

Mr Chestnutt was one of several witnesses giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on free trade deals the UK has recently struck with Australia and New Zealand.

While expressing concern that the deal has seen the “door flung open” for Australian and New Zealand farmers to export produce to the UK, Mr Chestnutt claimed Northern Ireland farmers may not reap the benefits of free trade deals, whether struck by the UK or EU.

The Brexit protocol has seen Northern Ireland remain in the EU single market for goods, meaning European regulatory rules still apply in the Province.

“The protocol was sold to Northern Ireland as giving us the best of both worlds, but the fact is that our produce cannot be sold on an EU trade deal, so we are limited to UK trade deals,” said Mr Chestnutt (pictured).

“In the case of divergence (of regulatory rules between NI and GB), our product will be a slightly different standard than of the (rest of the) UK, does that freeze us out of the UK trade deals or leave us at production price disadvantage with the UK?

“So, we are concerned that we could be left in no man’s land.”

He said the protocol had already created a no man’s land for farmers in relation to animal medicines and other regulatory issues where the “EU authorisation doesn’t cover us nor does the UK”.

He added: “That is a concern going forward that we can’t access both EU and UK free trade deals.”

The committee hearing also saw farming and food production representatives express concern about one of the two proposed climate change acts for Northern Ireland.

Two separate climate bills are currently proceeding through legislative stages in the Assembly – a private member’s bill from Green Party NI leader Clare Bailey and one tabled by Environment Minister Edwin Poots.

Ms Bailey’s bill, which is supported by a majority of other Stormont parties, sets a 2045 target for reaching net-zero carbon emissions.

Mr Poots’s bill sets the less ambitious goal of reducing emissions by 82% by 2050.

Witnesses told the committee that Ms Bailey’s bill, if enacted, could have a devastating effect on the farming industry.

Ian Stevenson, chief executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland, said economic analysis of Ms Bailey’s bill indicated it could result in an 86% reduction in cattle and sheep numbers.

He said it had the potential to “destroy good businesses”.

He added: “In an FTA, yes you’re facing more competition from international players, but through the climate change private member’s bill effectively you’d almost have to wipe out profitable businesses to achieve the targets that are being met.”