NFU livestock chief warns of threat from beef imports

The impact of free trade agreements with Antipodean countries on UK red meat are now starting to be felt, the outgoing NFU Livestock Board chairman has warned.

Richard Findlay voiced his growing concern about the UK government handing Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements (FTAs) when he addressed the NFU Conference Livestock breakout session this week.

“I remain concerned that we are just starting to see the impact of UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand trade deals, which have increased the volumes of Australian and NZ beef and lamb access without any meaningful safeguards,” he told delegates.

See also: Aussies target UK market with branded beef and lamb

However, Mr Findlay said it was reassuring that prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government has accepted only 13,000t of beef to be imported into the UK each year under the Trans-Pacific trade bloc, known as CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), starting from 10 years after the deal is signed.

Mr Findlay also welcomed the government’s decision to walk away from the Canada trade talks, saying: “It was the right decision. Canada was asking too much and offering too little in return.”

But he added: “We need protection of our sector to become the norm, not the exception.”

Mr Findlay said British beef and sheep farmers were constantly having to compete with imported products, which was not helped by “poor positioning on shelves by retailers”.

Co-mingling on shelves

NFU farmer-members were frequently sending him photos of imported product mixed with British on supermarket shelves – and often with British-assured branding on the counters above.

However, this is not the case at some retailers, such as Morrisons, who are sourcing 100% of their fresh meat from British farms.

Mr Findlay applauded some retailers who have added “Buy British” sections on their websites.

British beef farmers will also be buoyed by a recovery in the GB beef price since the summer of 2023, he said.

But he warned: “Our battles do not end there.”