Opinion: Trade secretary’s comments on NZ lamb beggar belief

The Conservatives really are going the extra mile to demonstrate how little they care about farming nowadays.

It is not long since we had prime minister Boris Johnson’s infamous comments on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show – where he suggested that it wasn’t a problem if pigs had to be culled due to staffing shortages at the abattoirs, because the pigs were going to die anyway.

Following on from that has been the announcement of a new trade deal with New Zealand – tellingly hailed by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern as “one of our best deals ever”.

See also: New Zealand delight at trade deal contrasts with UK farmer dismay

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Elizabeth Elder
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Elizabeth Elder and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range, Northumberland.
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On the UK side, the government’s own central estimate of the long-term benefit to the economy as a whole is 0.01%, but it could actually be minus 0.01%.

I know we’re all meant to be aiming for net zero nowadays, but this is ridiculous.

Some reports note a desire on the NZ side to move away from export reliance on China, to provide a safety net in the event of that market being restricted.

The people most likely to lose out in all this would appear to be British sheep farmers.

Their fears will not have been calmed by the comments on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme of Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary.

Ms Trevelyan also happens to be the MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, a large rural constituency in north Northumberland teeming with producers of high-quality livestock, especially sheep.

When challenged on the impact of her deal, she said: “I am not at all concerned that my Northumbrian lamb farmers will feel at risk. Different seasons in a practical sense, because it’s the other side of the world.

“So, when I am eating my Northumbrian lamb at Easter, I wouldn’t be eating New Zealand lamb. But I might now be able to have some lovely New Zealand lamb for my Sunday lunch in the autumn, which I otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

I was so astonished when I heard this that I had to have a mug of hot, sweet tea to recover from the shock, because, of course, while it is possible to buy Northumbrian lamb all year round, the absolute peak season is the autumn.

I can’t quite believe that the secretary didn’t know that. In any event, her complete indifference to the impact on farmers is quite striking.

The seasonality argument seems bogus. So, if that really is the best the trade secretary can come up with to reassure us, we’re all in a great deal of trouble.

It’s not even as if, in this instance, the risks to farming are simply being outweighed by huge benefits to other sectors.

There are not expected to be any net economic benefits to the UK overall. So why are they doing this?

Recent partial government U-turns over issues such as the pig cull and the pumping of raw sewage into rivers seem to demonstrate that such changes only tend to follow on from bad headlines, unpopularity and people speaking out.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s interview caused disbelief among local farmers and I know some constituents are seeking a meeting to discuss her comments.

Good for them. Stoical acceptance just seems to lead to being taken for granted and ignored.

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