At a time when uncertainty among farmers is at an all-time high ahead of Brexit negotiations, the National Sheep Association (NSA) does not accept recent comments from Theresa May and other MPs as being helpful. In representing its sheep farming members, the organisation does not support the UK walking away from the single market being used as a negotiating position within Brexit negotiations.
NSA believes an immediate move away from the single market at the point of departure from the EU could be disastrous to UK sheep farmers, with a devastating impact on the UK’s agricultural sustainability, environmental protection and rural communities and infrastructure.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “On average, 30-40% of the total lamb crop produced and mainly processed in the UK is exported. With some 96% of this output going to countries within the EU, any loss of access or tariff placed on this, coupled with the absence of alternative trade options, will not only cause huge disruption to trade but an almost inevitable fall in farm gate prices.
“If this were to happen at the same time as the industry is facing extensive uncertainty around farm support payments, the potential impact on the UK sheep sector would be crippling. The UK simply cannot afford to leave the single market and pass any costs of tariffs back to the agricultural industry until alternative and workable trade deals are developed elsewhere. Wider, global trade development at a scale to replace what we have with the EU is an extremely long term goal that needs to be discussed in the context of a long transitional period if we were to leave the single market.
“NSA understands the need for a tough negotiating stance, but our exit from the EU needs to be done with a clear vision for the future so that businesses can plan and adapt. Sheep farming, like most farming sectors, is a long-term activity where decisions taken today may take years to come to fruition. A two-year EU departure with an immediate departure from the single market is nowhere near long enough to steer the sheep farming industry through one of the most seismic changes we could possibly face.”
As a nation, UK sheep meat consumption figures are roughly in-line with domestic production, with export and import figures almost balancing at present, in order to cater for seasonal fluctuations in supply and balance demand for certain carcase cuts.
Mr Stocker continues: “Loss of access to the single market and the potential market disruption this would causes should prompt questions about self-sufficiency, an aspiration that might make sense but would require significant restructuring of the industry. If we were to strategically aim for greater self-sufficiency, the high level of welfare and environmental standards expected from UK producers would need protection from cheaper imports. The UK needs to be able to compete with other nations, and we must not fall into the trap of exporting environmental, welfare or social problems to the extent that they are simply out of sight.”