The UK could once again end up exporting its pig industry if cheap pork imports are allowed into the UK after we leave the EU, the NPA’s Ed Barker told MPs yesterday.
Mr Barker appeared in front of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee on Wednesday to provide evidence for its inquiry into post-Brexit trade in food. Also giving evidence were Andrew Saunders, Tulip’s agriculture managing director, Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council and Peter Allan, general manager and director of Cargill Meats Europe.
Mr Barker said the industry needed clarity from Government about how it intended to protect the EU pig sector and consumers from cheaper, lower standard imports under future trade deals. Currently, this protection is granted by non-tariff barriers set at EU level, with agricultural products granted ‘sensitive’ status.
He said: “What we really need to know as an industry is what assessment the Government and DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) have made of these non-tariff barriers for the EU – what would we like to keep and do we think we could still maintain as non-tariff barriers?”
For example, the UK pig industry would want to ensure imports of pork from pigs produced in systems using sow stalls are kept out of the UK. However, under WTO rules, it is likely to be ‘very difficult’ to ban such products, he told the MPs, adding that ‘the US, among others, are going to be trying to pick apart any barriers we have’.
He said the NPA endorsed the proposal for a share of the current Tariff Rate Quotas available to pig imports at EU level to be allocated to the UK after we leave the EU. This would provide at least some level of protection from cheaper imports from South America or the US, he added.
Lowering domestic standards
Labour MP Angela Smith said beef and lamb representatives had warned the committee they feared domestic production standards would have to be lowered if cheap imports flooded the market. She asked if the pig and poultry sectors had similar fears.
Mr Barker stressed that pig producers had ‘no desire to lower standards’ but said it would be placed in a very difficult position. US costs of production are cheaper, not just because of practices banned in the EU such as sow stalls and use of the feed additive ractopamine, but also due to lower feed costs and a more favourable planning regime.
At the moment the UK ‘could not compete at all’ with US products, and if was to come close to doing so, it would ‘require a wholesale lowering of standards’, he said, something nobody in the industry wanted.
Mr Saunders (pictured right) highlighted the example of the 1999 UK sow stall ban, which put the UK ahead of the rest of Europe ‘for 12, 13 years’. “The pig herd halved. Going there again would be catastrophic for the UK pig industry,” he said.
After EFRA chair Neil Parish reiterated the dangers of going too beyond competitors far in raising standards, Ed added: “You would export production abroad. That is what happened in 1999 and we are slowly getting it back, but if it happened again we could expect to see our production exported to the US.”