A CUMBRIAN sheep farmer claims a free trade agreement between the UK and countries in the Pacific area raises concerns for the UK domestic sheep meat market.

Eddie Eastham, chairman of the National Sheep Association (NSA) policy and technical committee, says New Zealand now relies heavily on Asia and the Middle East for sheep meat exports and has not fully utilised it's tariff free quota with the EU and UK for several years. And, claims Eddie, in recent times New Zealand producers have seen ex farm lamb values close to those of the UK. "However events over the past few months have demonstrated that disruption to trade between nations can arise , swiftly eroding values . Any disturbance of New Zealand sheep meat exports to Asia and China in particular could see extra tonnage heading towards the UK. Australia could possibly be seen as a greater threat as their current tariff free quota with the UK is relatively low . A new trade agreement could see this quota increase and once Australian sheep numbers have consolidated following several drought stricken years, the UK could be seen as a lucrative outlet.Trade negotiations are also underway between the UK and USA, which had raised much public discussion around welfare, hygiene and environmental standards. Within this there could be future opportunities for sales of lamb from the UK to North America alongside the export of genetics from our many UK sheep breeds .

The failure by a majority of MPs to support legislation safeguarding the UK against substandard imports as the Ag Bill passed through parliament was met with fierce criticism by the industry. Following this disappointment and intense lobbying by industry representatives, the Government has set up a Trade and Agriculture commission which will report on trade policies and agriculture. Whilst this is welcome, the commission will have to move quickly and its effectiveness will be judged by results. The concept of standards can be subjective and lower value does not always mean that equivalent standards have not been met . Of greater concern to the UK sheep industry is the outcome of trade talks with the EU around our future trading relationships . Reports of ongoing discussions are not encouraging and NSA continues to engage with Ministers on the importance of a favourable outcome. Apart from the possibility of damaging tariffs, other discussions are around obstacles, including border controls, health certificates etc.For the continuation of exports we need to have trade routes into Europe which are as frictionless as possible.