The agreement of a new trade deal between the UK and New Zealand on meat and dairy products could have a negative impact on Irish exports, farmers and government officials fear.
Officials are understood to be conducting an analysis of the terms of the trade deal, which was announced in principle last week and will see such food products from New Zealand gain tariff-free access to the UK.
There are fears that New Zealand lamb, beef and dairy products could be significantly cheaper on UK supermarket shelves than Irish exports.
Sources also warn that the agreement with New Zealand signals that the UK will seek zero-tariff agreements, which will mean fierce competition for Irish exporters to the UK market.
While Irish-UK trade has fallen since Brexit, it remains the single most important market for Irish agri-food exports.
Irish Farmers’ Association president Tim Cullinan said the proposed trade deal between the UK and New Zealand was very concerning for Irish sheep farmers.
“This is precisely the dangerous scenario that we have signalled following the Brexit vote in 2016. Trade deals between the UK and third countries have the potential to undermine what is a very important market for our exports,” he said.
Welsh farmers have warned that the New Zealand deal could see sheep farming become unviable in Wales.
The leader of the Welsh farmers’ union said that farmers in Wales faced becoming “economically unviable” as “the floodgates are opened” to cheap imports from across the world.
The New Zealand–UK trade agreement, which was announced in principle last week, provides for full tariff-free access at the end of 15 years for certain products, in particular beef and lamb, and for butter and cheese after five years.
Additionally, in these 15- and five-year phase-out periods it is reported that New Zealand has secured new tariff rate quotas at preferential rates.
The agreement, along with an agreement recently concluded with Australia, suggests that future UK trade policy will be based on full liberalisation of tariffs, which sources say will represent a significant competitive challenge for Irish food exporters to the UK market.