NFU Scotland has reacted with anger and dismay at the announcement of a further free trade deal that grants a major exporting nation unfettered access to the UK and offers virtually nothing to Scottish farmers, growers and crofters in return.
The UK Government announcement of a free trade agreement with New Zealand, coupled with the Australian deal signed in June, will see the UK potentially open up its borders to huge volumes of imported food, a significant proportion of which may not have been produced on farming systems permitted here.
That threatens the viability of Scottish farmers and crofters at a time when consumer demand for local, sustainably produced Scottish food and drink is growing.
As with the Australian deal, the New Zealand negotiations have been concluded without proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Union believes this is vital but, with the continued absence of the promised Statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission, the UK Government has failed to establish a route to effective scrutiny.
NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said: “Our fears that the process adopted by the UK Government in agreeing the Australia deal would set a dangerous precedent going forward have just been realised. Having now put in place a similar deal to grant unfettered access to New Zealand, another major food exporting nation, the cumulative impact of all such deals on farmers and crofters will be substantial.
“This latest deal offers virtually nothing to Scottish farmers and crofters in return but risks undermining our valuable lamb, dairy and horticultural sectors by granting access to large volumes of imported goods that could be produced in farming systems not currently permitted here.
“As with the Australian deal, there is to be a cap on tariff-free imports from New Zealand for 15 years. That is merely a slow journey to allow New Zealand, a major exporter of food and drink, unfettered access to food and drink UK markets.
“Once again, this is a deal that has not been afforded the appropriate level of scrutiny and consultation and has been agreed in advance of the promised statutory Trade and Agriculture Commission being established.
“The Department for International Trade has repeated its claim that there will be safeguards for UK producers within such deals without ever identifying what those safeguards would be.
“That is why parliamentarians must be given the opportunity to examine the Australian and New Zealand deals, and any future deals with the likes of the USA, Canada and Mexico, with Government also carrying out a detailed impact assessment on what all such deals may mean for the agriculture and food sectors.
“We are ambitious to identify and grasp opportunities to build our industry and wider economy and our reputation for world class produce. Trade deals could be an enabler of this, but it is going to require investment and collaboration between UK Government and the industry; collaboration which does not exist at present.
“The reality is that as the Government drives a new open trading environment, it is increasingly imposing rules on us that make the industry less competitive. The current failure to meaningfully address the critical shortage of labour across the whole food supply chain is a good case in point.”