THE WESTMINSTER government’s wish to conclude a zero-tariff trade deal with Australia will put the future of Welsh livestock farming at risk.
That’s the unanimous view of Welsh farming organisations, who are aghast that allowing products produced to lower animal welfare standards will threaten the viability of Welsh farms and have disastrous consequences for our rural economy.
Earlier this week, The Financial Times exposed tensions in the Westminster Cabinet between DEFRA and the Department of International Trade.
The article said that George Eustice, Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Cabinet Office Secretary Michael Gove opposed International Trade Secretary Liz Truss’ wish to conclude a post-Brexit trade deal at any cost.
THE PROMISE AND THE THREAT
In addition to potentially undermining the UK’s farming industry, there are serious concerns that cheaply produced new food imports will pressure livestock farmers to intensify their practices to compete. This would harm animal welfare and environmental standards across the UK.
Previous Secretary of States for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove MP and Theresa Villiers MP, and the current Secretary of State, George Eustice MP, have repeatedly asserted the Government’s firm commitment to maintaining the UK’s high food and environmental standards in any circumstance.#
Despite this, key amendments to both the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill, aimed at safeguarding British standards and protecting UK producers were repeatedly defeated by the Government in Parliament.
In fact, due to loopholes in the recently passed Trade Bill, the Government will now be able to approve the import of animal and agricultural products of a lower standard than currently permitted in the UK and make sweeping changes to existing food safety regulations without consultation.
WG FEARS IMPACT ON RURAL WALES
Welsh Government ministers’ responses to the International Trade Secretary’s position were condemnatory.
Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “Farmers and food producers play a crucial role in our society, economy and environment.
“We have been very clear with the UK Government that any new trade deals must not cause an un-level playing field, by giving food importers with lower standards an economic advantage in our market compared to our own producers.
Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths added: “We are extremely proud of the high food safety standards we have here in Wales, including standards around animal health and welfare, traceability, environment and food safety.
“No trade agreement should ever undermine that or our domestic legislation, and Welsh Government has consistently made this point to the UK Government.”
We followed up those remarks by asking what representations the Welsh Government made and when.
A spokesperson told us: “We have frequent contact with UK Government, through both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of International Trade at all stages of FTA negotiations. This includes weekly meetings on the Australian FTA.
“We are consistently clear in these meetings that new FTAs must not create an un-level playing field for our own producers.
“The First Minister raised this issue with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove MP on Wednesday afternoon (May 19).”
AUSSIE FREE TRADE DEAL WILL UNDERMINE STANDARDS
The same day, FUW President Glyn Roberts met with UK Trade Minister Greg Hands.
Speaking after the meeting, FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “Both the minister and I agreed wholeheartedly that we must seek new trade opportunities for UK agriculture and other industries.
“However, we made our concerns regarding the adverse impacts of a liberal deal with Australia very clear.”
Mr Roberts said that he and the Minister discussed a host of issues during the meeting, including the potential benefits for Welsh agriculture of the UK’s membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which the UK is currently seeking.
“The reality is that a deal that liberalises access to the UK market for Australian beef and lamb means a lowering of standards and will have adverse consequences for UK farmers.
“While this may not be an immediate concern given current exports to the UK, we have to look at what might happen in the future. After all, if Australia didn’t believe they would increase food exports to the UK significantly at some point, they wouldn’t be fighting so hard to ensure it is in a trade agreement.”
Mr Roberts said The union had also highlighted the gulf between the standards required of farmers in Wales and the UK and the far lower standards required in Australia.
“The Queen’s speech has just reiterated UK Government plans to tighten up animal movement rules, and Wales looks set to follow suit.
“Our current maximum animal journey time is already eight hours, but it is forty-eight hours – six times higher in Australia. Other concerns include the significant differences between animal traceability requirements, given that what is allowed in Australia would be completely illegal here.”
“The political pressure on the Government to announce a trade deal should not override the UK government’s duty to negotiate a deal that upholds its own promises and our values by preventing food produced to lower standards from being sold in the UK – however long that negotiation takes, or even if it means walking away from negotiations,” Mr Roberts added.
DOGMA TRUMPING OUR NATIONAL INTEREST
TFA Cymru Chairman Dennis Matheson told The Herald: “The UK Government is at risk of allowing politics to trump our national interest in being over keen to get a trade agreement over the line without properly thinking through its consequences.
“There is no pretence that, from the perspective of the agricultural industry, trade deals with Australia and New Zealand would not have been at the top of our agenda. Clearly, both countries have got their sights set on ramping up exports of beef, sheep, and dairy to the UK.
“Welsh farmers stand to lose out considerably if this comes to fruition. That will be hugely damaging to the Welsh economy, tourism, and the environment. We must ensure we do not let in imports which fall below the environmental and animal welfare requirements imposed upon producers in Wales.”
19 farming bodies across various sectors and from all four nations of the UK have agreed on five principles of crucial importance to UK food and farming in the negotiations.
NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “We know that agriculture is almost always the last chapter to be finalised in any trade deal, and as these talks reach an advanced stage its important negotiators take on board the five detailed principles agreed.
“The government’s repeated commitments to safeguard our own standards and not undercut UK farmers through unfair competition are encouraging, and we support their ambition to liberalise trade.
“We know that if we’re to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return. However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly.”
WESTMINSTER RISKS ‘IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE’
John Davies continued: “There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage rather than flourish in the way we all desire, to the detriment of our environment, our food security and our rural communities.
“The British government faces a choice. It must recognise that zero-tariff trade on all imports of products such as beef and lamb means British farming, working to its current high standards, will struggle to compete.
“At a time when government has placed huge importance on its aim of levelling up, this would fundamentally undermine any ambition to narrow the rural-urban divide or to ensure all parts of the UK are included in the government’s desire to build back in the months ahead.”
Julie Barratt, President of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said: “Despite repeated assurances from a string of Environment Secretaries, the mood music does not look good for UK food standards and animal welfare when it comes to this potential deal with Australia.
“Adopting a zero-tariff and zero-quota approach to food imports from Australia risks the UK market being flooded with cheaper produce and undercutting UK farmers, forcing our farmers to adopt lower standards just to be able to compete.
“There are also serious questions about how importing cheaper food from the other side of the world impacts on the UK’s food security or sustainability, or how it helps the Government meet its wider environmental pledges or commitment to achieving net-zero.
“We are calling on the UK Government to stick to its environmental commitments and to not undermine our high food standards in an attempt to get a trade deal over the line.”
Ceredigion farmers left high and dry by lack of UK-NZ trade deal protections
PLAID CYMRU politicians have expressed significant concerns regarding the impact the new trade deal stuck between the UK and New Zealand will have on Ceredigion farmers.
The free trade agreement between New Zealand and the UK Government was signed on 28 February 2022 and is set to open the doors to a significant import of meat produce which could potentially hit the farming sector in Wales harder than in any other part of the UK.
NFU Cymru has recently raised concerns about the deal, stating that the potential negative cumulative impact of this cannot be overstated.
The New Zealand trade deal follows another similar deal with Australia, and while it offers significant upsides for farmers on the other side of the world, it potentially creates significant marketplace changes for Welsh farming.
Figures from the Farmers Union of Wales state the agreement could see the amount of beef that can be imported tariff-free from New Zealand rise immediately to 12,000 then gradually to 38,820 tonnes in ten years’ time. Further rises would occur in the subsequent five years, after which there would be no limit. A similar increase would also be seen in lamb, with the amount that could be imported tariff-free would increase by 35,000 tonnes per annum in years one to four, then by 50,000 tonnes per annum in years five to fifteen, after which there would be no limit.
Plaid Cymru’s Agriculture Spokesperson, Mabon ap Gwynfor MS, has today (2 March, 2022) raised the issue as a matter of urgency with the Welsh Government in the Senedd.
Mabon ap Gwynfor MS said: “While the spin will be about benefits, the truth is that this trade deal is a real cause for concern for Welsh farmers.
“The agreement will provide a 15 year transitional period, and it states that they will only be able to ‘utilise new access to the UK sheep meat market once they have filled 90% of their existing World Trade Organization (WTO) quota’.
“However, this leaves Welsh farmers at the whim of a market whereby they have no control nor input. Should something change in the sheep meat market then New Zealand meat would suddenly end up here or in the EU and undermine Welsh farmers.
“By failing to ensure that there are tariffs on imports here the UK Government have left Welsh farmers completely open to the whims of a market which they have no say and no protection.
Cefin Campbell, Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for Mid & West Wales added: “Let us be clear, this trade deal is a gross betrayal of Ceredigion farmers. The UK Government’s own analysis suggests that the number of people working in agriculture will be negatively impacted by this deal, whilst it also threatens to undermine the entire Welsh agriculture sector – which we know is far more susceptible to harm from a poor trade deal than other farmers in other parts of the UK.
As we face a climate emergency, importing more food from the other side of the world that could be produced sustainably here in Wales, does not make any sense whatsoever.
Clearly, efforts must now be taken at Westminster to ensure that the Welsh farming sector is safeguarded from the potential negative impact of this agreement.”
Total Dispersal of Hidden Gem Welsh Dairy Herd
HARRISON & HETHERINGTON have today announced that they will be the sale managers for the dispersal sale of 700 pedigree Holsteins from the impressive Clywedog herd.
The two-day sale will be held on behalf of Rhys and Huw Jones at Old Llwyn Onn Farm, Wrexham, on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th February.
Day one of the sale will comprise 320 milking animals and 180 heifer calves up to six months of age.
Day two will see 200 youngstock selling with in-calf, bulling and heifer calves down to six months of age. Notably, a large percentage of the herd and most of the in-calf heifers carry pregnancies by female sexed sires.
In the last two years Harrison & Hetherington have expanded their on-farm dispersal sales service across the UK and Ireland and Glyn Lucas, Senior Pedigree Dairy Auctioneer, is delighted that they have been invited to manage this special sale: “The Clywedog Pedigree Holstein herd is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. This complete dispersal sale offers the modern kind of cow that the modern milk producer appreciates.
“The cows are powerful and exhibit outstanding width of rump and chest, and are in excellent body condition. The production records on two times a day milking is impressive and the potential these cows have to increase on a three times a day or robotic management system is exciting. In addition, all of the animals going under the hammer have been tested for export.”
At the most recent milk recording in mid-January the herd averaged 41kgs at 4.42% butterfat and 3.31% protein with somatic cell count of 63. The herd has exceptional fertility with the current calving interval running at 378 days and the current days in milk is 134 days.
The latest classification saw 17 new Excellent cows, 39 new Very Good cows, 14 new Very Good milking heifers and 24 new Good Plus heifers. The sale will have a total of 41 Excellent, 141 Very Good and 138 Good Plus animals in the sale.
Herd health status is exemplary with IBR, BVD and Lepto protocols all managed in conjunction with farm vet, Rob George from Nantwich Farm Vets. Additionally, the herd has never had a case of TB and all animals are tested for export.
Giving further background, owner and breeder Rhys Jones said: “We established our pedigree herd in 1990 and have worked hard over the years to create high yielding, long-lasting herd of beautiful cows. Our mission has been to produce high type cows, and to that end we have selected the best genetics from Cogent and Semex. The stock is in excellent condition, they have been looked after with loving care and I know that the animals will go on to do very well.
“However, the time has come for Huw and I to ease off; I will soon be 64 and it’s time to hang up my hat. We would all like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years. We have taken great pride in producing a herd with long lasting cows and heifers and we will both get a lot of satisfaction in watching our breeding develop in herd around the UK.”
Harrison & Hetherington are renowned auctioneers, selling all classes of pedigree and commercial livestock and is one of the UK’s foremost auctioneers for Dairy Cattle. Being located in one of the largest milk producing areas in the UK, its weekly sales at Borderway, Carlisle, attract top quality dairy cattle and buyers.
Harrison & Hetherington are also the principal official society auctioneers to many breed societies and area clubs, and regularly hold dispersal or collective sales on site and on farms across mainland UK and Ireland.
Local MP backs Parliamentary inquiry into rural productivity
BEN LAKE will join MPs from across the political divide to identify opportunities to grow the rural economy
The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Rural Powerhouse is undertaking a comprehensive investigation into the health of the rural economy.
The inquiry started in May this year, taking evidence from rural businesses and representative bodies, as well as academics, government ministers and other experts. Oral evidence sessions have covered farming and land use, the planning system, access to skills, mobile and electrical connectivity as well as exploring how the tax regime could be used to encourage diversification and entrepreneurship in rural areas.
Ceredigion MP Ben Lake took part in the final evidence session today – which investigated the role of government structures and procedures, asking whether they hinder or help in delivering rural objectives.
Ben Lake MP told The Ceredigion Herald: “There are over 500,000 rural businesses across Wales and England – they are the backbone of the rural economy. Closing the productivity gap between rural and urban communities is essential to ‘levelling up’. If we want to see thriving rural communities, we must ensure everyone has the opportunity for a good job and a good home. This inquiry will help identify changes in government policy necessary to deliver that goal.”
Mark Tufnell, President of the Country Land and Business Association which represents 28,000 rural businesses in England and Wales, said: “Closing the rural productivity gap would add £43bn of gross value added (GVA) to the economy – creating hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs in communities everywhere. This would be on top of the £261bn the rural economy already contributes to the national economy.
“The reasons for the countryside’s lower productivity are complex but, thanks to this inquiry, we have gathered evidence that will be critical in determining what improvements should be made to ensure that levelling up the countryside really is at the heart of the government’s agenda.”
The APPG inquiry will publish its findings early in the new year.
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