Talks in the WTO aimed at opening up the EU to agricultural imports may not have as serious an impact on livestock producers as some commentators have predicted, according to speakers at the Meat and Livestock Commission’s annual conference.

The EU has already tabled an offer to cut tariffs by up to 60%, increase quotas and phase out export refunds and this may be trumped by an even more generous offer when the details of an agreement are hammered out in the spring.

But consultant Liz Murphy predicted that dairy and suckler cow numbers in the UK would fall as competition from southern
hemisphere beef producers intensified, while sheep and pig production should remain largely unscathed.

On a forequarter cut, Ms Murphy’s post-reform figures showed little incentive to import from South America, but she warned that could squeeze supplies for EU manufacturers.

“They will either buy cooked beef in South America, or get frozen ready meals made there instead.”

However, it was a different story for chilled striploin. Domestic product currently costs 650p/kg, but after tariff reductions Ms Murphy calculated the Brazilian equivalent would only cost 350p/kg.

“They will always be able to offer below our prices, that’s why retailers are starting to import more, but it doesn’t suit all markets.

If British farmers concentrate on making a quality product they will be in a good position.”

MLC economist Duncan Sinclair said the Brazilians were themselves facing rapid cost increases and were more focused on the key North American market.