The EU-New Zealand (NZ) trade deal negotiation has been ongoing for almost four years, having started in June 2018.
Industry trade publication Agra Facts is reporting that the negotiation is entering the end game and an agreement could be reached in July.
When the negotiation with NZ and Australia commenced in 2018, it put Irish farmers on edge given their dominant position in sheepmeat and beef exports, as well as dairy in the case of NZ. This was added to a year later with the announcement of the Mercosur trade deal, which has still to be ratified.
The big change since then in trade negotiations relevant to Irish farmers has been the outworking of Brexit.
If an influx of Australian or NZ produce to the UK creates an oversupply in the market, the UK will export domestic production to the EU to balance the market
The UK has rapidly concluded trade deals with both NZ and Australia, achieved so quickly because the UK granted essentially what both countries wanted by way of access to the UK market for agricultural produce.
With both countries in time having virtually unlimited access to the UK market and UK exporters having unlimited access to the EU market, a levelling up process is effectively created.
If an influx of Australian or NZ produce to the UK creates an oversupply in the market, the UK will export domestic production to the EU to balance the market.
In this scenario, Australia and NZ indirectly benefit from the EU market, irrespective of their level of access to it.
Want EU deal as well
With that said, both countries are keen to secure wider access for agri products to the EU in their own right.
The priority for NZ is dairy and to a lesser extent beef, while sheepmeat access is more than adequate at present because they haven’t come close to filing the 228,000t quota shared between the EU and UK in recent years.
This is because the Chinese market has been growing rapidly.
Up until the year ending September 2018, the EU and UK were NZ’s most important export market for sheepmeat, but by the year ending September 2021, NZ exported over twice as much lamb to China (155,532t) as they did to the EU and UK (71,290t).
Dairy access to the EU is widely recognised as a priority for NZ, as is beef, which has attracted less attention. NZ exported 464,787t of beef for the year ending September 2021, with China as its largest market, taking 180,000t, followed by North America on 172,000t. The EU and UK combined accounted for just 786t.
While China dominates global markets for lower value meat cuts, Europe is the highest value high volume steak meat market and will be a target for NZ exports.
EU upstaged by UK
Prior to the UK severing links with the EU customs union and single market at the start of 2021, the EU were the leaders in pursuing free trade at a global level, as China, Japan and the US all remained heavily protected markets.
Historically, the EU was the same, but following an agreement – if not yet ratification – with Mercosur, an agreement with NZ followed in time by one with Australia, would put the EU at the forefront of freeing global trade. However, the EU has been overtaken by the UK for speed in concluding trade deals.
The UK already has Australia and NZ in the bag, negotiations are underway with Canada, and the US and South American countries are targets as is participating in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Any trade deal that enhances access to either the UK or EU markets for agricultural produce is a threat to Irish farmers. While dairy, pig and poultry are globally competitive and the EU has a deficit of supply of sheepmeat, beef remains particularly vulnerable to opening of the UK and EU markets. This is recognised at EU level, hence the long drawn out negotiations with potential partners.
Closing of a deal with NZ will inevitably bring with it enhanced access to the EU market in addition to the UK market, and there is no upside to this for Irish farmers.