According to Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive, Ian Stevenson, the year ahead will be a very busy one for beef and sheep farmers in Northern Ireland.
This reflects the fact that agriculture throughout the UK will be moving into a post European Union (EU) membership. The coming 12 months should also see the world gradually recovering from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A key priority for our local industry is communicating to all food retail, manufacturing and catering outlets in Great Britain [GB] and the European Union [EU] that it is very much business as usual, where beef and lamb supplies from Northern Ireland are concerned.
“Here in Northern Ireland farmers and processors will, no doubt, continue to successfully adapt to the dual challenge of meeting both UK and EU food production standards.
“Despite the complications of the new operating environment, and the challenges of moving some livestock and livestock products between GB and NI, the unique unfettered market access for Northern Irish operators to sell product into the UK internal market and EU single market, allows for the continuation of important just-in-time business with customers in fresh and chilled markets,” he added.
Free Trade Agreements
According to the LMC representative, the UK now has the opportunity to enter new free trade arrangements with countries around the world.
Countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and the US will regard agri-food access to the UK market as an important offensive element of any deals finally arrived at.
Stevenson commented: “Third Countries, where the UK is currently prioritising the negotiation of Free Trade Agreements, must be robustly challenged to meet the same food production and environmental standards as those expected of farmers and food processors in the UK.
“Sectors such as beef and lamb which are strategically important to UK agriculture, and are particularly vulnerable to undermining by cheap imports from low cost producers, must be afforded appropriate levels of protection in any trade deals that are signed.”
New markets for beef and sheep in NI
Stevenson also believes that new export market opportunities for beef and lamb produced in Northern Ireland are likely to open up over the coming years.
But it will take a sustained marketing push to allow NI to avail of these opportunities in full.
“Given this backdrop, there is an obvious requirement for Northern Ireland’s red meat sector to heighten its profile in countries around the world during the period ahead,” Stevenson said.
“The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic served to delay the export of beef products from Northern Ireland to China in 2020.
“But LMC is confident the first consignments of beef can be cleared for export in 2021. Hong Kong has been a major market for local beef exports going back over a number of years.
“But getting a foothold in mainland China will represent a major boost for Northern Ireland’s beef industry.
“China has a huge import demand for all types of meat and as its economy quickly rebounds after the worst effects of Covid-19, a direct route to market for quality, safe and trusted product from UK suppliers will be an important milestone,” he concluded.