Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt believes that providing Australia with unfettered access to UK food markets through an Australian trade deal, could decimate agriculture in Northern Ireland.

Chestnutt made the comments at a press conference hosted by the UK’s four main faming unions.

He said: “We are talking about a cumulative effect. The current trade deal being negotiated between the UK and Australia will set the baseline for the many that follow.”

UK commitment amid Australian trade deal

The event was held to highlight the UK’s government’s commitment to safeguard the UK’s farming industry, and the need for Boris Johnson to hold to his word in this regard.

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said that clear blue water exists between the UK and Australia when it comes to the issues of animal production and welfare standards.

She cited numerous environmental and animal welfare-related issues in order to make her point.

Batters said: “We are not against a fair trade deal. But the final agreement must recognise farming and food as sensitive issues.  

“This is a principle that is recognised within all international trading agreements.”

The leaders of the Scottish National Farmers’ Union and NFU Cymru also took part in the press conference.

All agreed that relevant tariffs and quotas should be imposed on future food imports from Australia into the UK.

Impact on livestock sector

The four farming leaders expressed their deep concern at the future impact on the UK’s livestock sector of an unfettered Australian trade deal.

Victor Chesnutt highlighted the significance of cattle and sheep to the economy of Northern Ireland as a whole.

“Approximately 70% of the farmed area in Northern Ireland is located within the less favoured areas,” he explained.

“As a consequence, grass is the only crop option available on the vast majority of these farms.”

Animal welfare standards

Emphasis was placed on the perceived differential in animal welfare standards between the UK and Australia, with a number of the farm leaders highlighting the fact that Australian cattle can be transported for up to 48 hours without receiving water.

The continuing use of hormones within the beef industry ‘down under’ was cited as another major point of difference between the UK and Australia.

Transporting beef from the other side of the world to the UK was highlighted as being completely at odds with the need to reduce the impact of climate change. 

Asia was pointed out by the four union leaders as the most appropriate market for Australian beef.

However, Minette Batters admitted that the outworking of the current trade talks would, almost certainly, boost beef exports from Australia to the UK.

“But this must be achieved within the context of a fair trade deal arrangement,” she concluded.