Access to export markets remains a key priority for beef and lamb in Northern Ireland (NI), according to the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC).

Commission chief executive, Ian Stevenson said:

“The UK will remain the largest and most important market for beef produced in NI.

 In the case of lamb, the need to maintain unfettered access to the rest of the UK and the EU are priorities of equal stature for the sector moving forward.

“We export the vast majority of the beef and lamb that we produce locally.

Wider market access beyond the EU, where our beef and lamb are concerned, will also provide a better carcass balance for our processors.

“Developments of this nature will have very beneficial implications in terms of the prices that can be offered to farmers.

Export markets development

According to the LMC chief executive, the commission works very closely with the UK Export Certification Partnership in helping to make new third country market access happen.

One extremely encouraging development in this regard has been the opening up of the US market to accept sheepmeat imports from the UK.

“A decision, in principle, has been reached on this matter,” Stevenson confirmed.

It will take a few months to sort out the details of the export certificates and plant approvals that will be required to make this trading opportunity a reality."

“But it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that lamb from Northern Ireland will be making its way to the United States at some stage during 2022.

“Currently the American market accounts for 135,000t of lamb imports on an annual basis, with 70% of domestic demand serviced by imported product,” he explained.

Turning to the issue of food imports, Stevenson highlighted the potential impact of the recent trade deals agreed by the UK with both Australia and New Zealand.

Both these developments, in his view, could have significant consequences for NI’s farming and food sectors over the coming years.

He added:

“The current conservative government at Westminster seems to be wedded to a cheap food policy. From what I can see there is little, or nothing at all, of what could be considered a good news story coming out of these developments for farming and food across the UK.

Given developments of this nature, the need for political awareness regarding the needs of farming and food here in Northern Ireland is now a priority.”

The LMC chief executive concluded:

“Here, in Northern Ireland, climate change will be the main focus. However, where London is concerned, reserved matters relating to trade policy must be debated in a context that also includes the needs of Northern Ireland in full.”