While the UK was part of the EU, it was restricted to whatever trade agreements the EU made. But since Brexit, the UK has been anxious to use its newfound freedom to conclude trade deals and so far, the most significant of these are with Australia and New Zealand.
New Zealand already has a generous 228,000t quota between the UK and EU for sheep meat, but this will be increased by 35,000t when the UK-New Zealand trade agreement comes into effect. Moreover, this will increase annually for 15 years, by which point there will be no limit at all.
For beef, a 12,000t quota will be available when the deal comes into effect, growing to 38,000t after 10 years when tariffs will be removed completely.
A safeguard limit will be in place until year 15, when there will be free access to the UK market for unlimited quantities of Kiwi beef.
For Australia, access is equally favourable. When the agreement comes into effect, Australia will get a 25,000t tariff-free quota for sheep meat, rising to 75,000t after 10 years. A safeguard is in place for additional product between years 10 and 15, after which there will be unlimited access.
The Australian beef quota will be 35,000t on entry, rising to 110,000t after 10 years and 170,000t after 15 years. The last 60,000t is subject to a safeguard trigger.
Impact on Irish exports
Australia and New Zealand will have huge access to the UK market as soon as the agreement comes into effect, which is expected to be this year.
Their aim will be to displace other exporters and this is what makes Irish exports particularly vulnerable, because even if Irish supplies are more accessible, they will be priced against what is being paid for Australian and New Zealand product, as opposed to EU options as has been the case until now.
But there is a further twist. If the UK market becomes seriously oversupplied, the UK will remain able to export unlimited beef and sheep meat to the EU under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), which gives effect to Brexit.
Therefore, as well as these trade deals having a direct impact on Irish beef and sheep meat exports to the UK, there is potentially an indirect impact of having increased competition from UK exports to the EU if the UK market becomes oversupplied.
In addition to these deals, the UK is in advanced negotiations with Canada on a bespoke trade deal, and preliminary discussions have taken place with Uruguay also – both these countries are major beef exporters.
Brazil is also a stated target by the UK for a trade deal; as is the US, though this is the least likely deal to occur in the immediate future.