Free trade agreements between the UK and non-EU countries have the potential to pose challenges for farmers north and south of the border, according to Northern Ireland (NI) Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots.
Minister Poots told the Irish Farmers Journal that he suspected that the volumes of agri-food goods entering the UK would not necessarily reach the quotas set out in such trade agreements, particularly, he said, in relation to food travelling from Australia and New Zealand.
“There is always that potential and obviously the deals with New Zealand and Australia wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to, you know, agri-food producers in Ireland, north or south,” Minister Poots said at the National Ploughing Championships on Wednesday.
“However, my suspicion and instinct would suggest that we probably won't get the volumes that are being allowed because there are better options for Australia and New Zealand much closer to them than coming into the UK.”
The NI minister commented that the appointment of a new prime minister in the UK could allow for better relations between the UK and the EU, but only if issues relating to the NI protocol are resolved.
He claimed that some elements of the farming sector were impacted negatively by the protocol, citing the loss of many farm vaccines and veterinary products.
The onus is on the EU to lower the requirements needed to export to NI from Great Britain, Minister Poots said.
“I think, in particular, we do have to deal with the issue and problem of the barrier that has been created between Great Britain and NI for trade and there won’t be good relationships until that barrier is removed.
“So, it is for the EU to lower its requirements, because many of the requirements are entirely illogical, wholly unnecessary and are creating additional burdens both on veterinary services, for example, but also people who are buying product in from Great Britain to NI,” he said.
Minister Poots stated that solutions to challenges he outlined could be found outside the NI protocol and that scrapping the protocol would not pose a danger to farmers in the North if the standards they operate to were recognised.
Northern Ireland’s farmers already comply with all EU regulations and this could be factored into a solution if negotiators “take the politics out of it”, he said.
“I think it is much simpler than what people have made it out to be.
“We identify the threats to the EU single market and you deal with those threats. I don’t believe that a lot of the rules that are currently in place are proportionate to any threat that exists.
“So, for example, the food that’s coming to the likes of Sainsburys’ and Tesco and Asda and companies like that, there are going to be products which are consumed in NI which is part of the UK and, therefore, having checks on those goods is entirely pointless.
“A lot of the milk that comes from the North, processed in the south, actually ends up in GB,” he said.