Yorkshire relies on sheep sector that '˜needs' free EU trade, says NFU president Minette Batters

Yorkshire's rural way of life stands to suffer if the region's crucial sheep industry is not afforded frictionless trade with Europe, according to farm union leader Minette Batters.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union, is due to unveil a new livestock sales complex at Craven Cattle Mart in Skipton today.

Ahead of a trip to Skipton today, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president said that a failure to broker a free trade deal with the EU ahead of Britain’s exit from the trading bloc next March would likely lead to high tariffs being imposed on imports of British lamb.

If sold at added cost and British lamb becomes a less attractive proposition, then the effects will filter down to farm businesses, Ms Batters said.

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According to the latest figures, sheep meat exports to the EU were worth £302m in 2015, representing 95 per cent of all British sheep meat exports.

Yorkshire and the North East has 30 per cent of England's sheep.

The NFU boss, who will unveil a new livestock sales complex at Skipton’s Craven Cattle Mart during her visit to the region, said that as this year’s lamb sales will be the last before Brexit it “brings into sharp focus the importance of securing a favourable trade deal with the EU”.

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Some 30 per cent of England’s sheep are in Yorkshire and the North East, making sheep production vital to the region’s rural economy.

Sheep meat exports to the EU were worth £302m in 2015.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Ms Batters said: “Everybody is very concerned about the uncertainty because the sheep sector is potentially the most impacted by a ‘no deal’.

“We export 40 per cent of our lamb into the EU and if we didn’t have access to that market where is that 40 per cent of production going to go?

“British lamb would be facing a 51 per cent tariff in a no-deal situation which would push us out of the marketplace.

“If we don’t have a deal with the EU and we open our doors to the rest of the world and bring in food of lower standards, this ultimately means we can’t compete.”

Asked about the effects this would have on Yorkshire’s farming industry, Ms Batters explained: “Many people’s businesses are limited by the land they are farming. In Yorkshire there is a lot of grass and you can’t do anything else there.

“If your business is constrained by growing grass there isn’t another option for a lot of farmers unless they have beef and sheep.”

The county is home to more than 2m sheep and the Yorkshire Dales is England’s largest sheep producing area.

Explaining just what is at stake from the outcome of trade talks, Ms Batters said: “It’s about a way of life that underpins the rural economy, not just about food production, it’s about our culture, our heritage, farming families across the generations.”

She added: “With so much at stake, the UK Government must adopt a trade policy which prioritises tariff free, frictionless access to the European marketplace.

“This is crucial to underpin market stability, vital not just for farmers but the many wider supply chain businesses that depend on a thriving sheep sector.”

VALUE OF TRADE RECOGNISED

The Government acknowledged that the EU is Britain’s biggest trading partner for agricultural products in its recent Health and Harmony consultation document about the future of farm policy post-Brexit.

The document states: “The Government is committed to securing a deep and special partnership with the EU, including a bold and ambitious economic partnership.

“The UK wants to secure the freest trade possible in goods and services between the UK and the EU. Ensuring as frictionless trade as possible for our agricultural sectors is particularly important where much of the produce is perishable and time is critical.”