A zero tariff, zero quota trade deal between the UK and Australia would damage Northern Ireland’s beef and sheep trade, the new DUP leader has warned.
Edwin Poots said the prospect of such an agreement posed a “high level of risk” to farmers across the UK.
Poots outlined his concerns in a letter to UK environment secretary George Eustice.
The letter, in which he expressed “strong opposition” to a zero tariff, zero quota agreement, comes amid reports that the government is poised to agree to such a deal with the Australians.
Poots is concerned that Australian beef and lamb producers would be able to undercut local farmers.
“The prospect of such a deal presents a high level of risk to Northern Ireland and UK farmers,” he said.
“Therefore I believe that the UK should maintain tariff protection at present levels for all agricultural products where the UK has a significant production interest.
“Australia has a number of distinct advantages over Northern Ireland, and the rest of the UK, in terms of the land available for farming, climate and lower standards, that allows its farmers to be able produce at a considerably lower cost, particularly in the beef and sheep sectors.
“Consequently there is a lot of potential for Australian beef and sheep exports to the UK to expand substantially over time if tariffs are eliminated.
“Australian beef and sheep products have the potential to undercut UK producers and to reduce Northern Ireland’s market share in GB which is our most important market for these products.”
Poots said a zero tariff, zero quota deal with Australia would create an expectation of similar deals with other countries.
He also raised animal welfare concerns about certain farming practices in Australia.
The minister said tariff protection must be maintained for beef and sheep products.
“While beef and sheep give rise to the greatest concerns, protection must be maintained for all sensitive agri-food products where NI has a significant production interest, including dairy, pigs and poultry,” he added.