NI beef processors place hope in US to replace ‘lost’ Canadian market

Meat processors in Northern Ireland are hoping newly-cleared access to the US could replace sales to the Canadian market, should access be lost following the UK’s Brexit completion.

Two Northern Ireland processers are among the first from the UK to be approved for access to the US market for the first time in 20 years, in an historic moment for local farmers.

The deal has the potential to be worth up to £66 million to the UK over the next five years. However, processors warn that access comes as they risk losing the Canadian market.

Clare Holly, marketing director at WD Meats, explained it had taken “five years of hard work” and “significant capital investment” to secure access to the US market for the firm’s 1,600 farm suppliers.

“We’re hoping we can still access the EU free trade agreements but, at this point, I think that’s very hopeful,” she told AgriLand.

“As it stands currently with Brexit, we are not going to be eligible for the EU’s free trade agreement so it’s great to have more countries that we can access.

Image source: Michael Cooper

“One of the big EU free trade agreements we avail of is to Canada and that’s a market we could lose come January 1, so it’s great that we can fall back on the US.

Initially, the Canadian market would have been one load (24t) once every three months, now it’s maybe two loads a month.

“Over the three or four years we have been going there it’s definitely gone from strength-to-strength – which is great – so we are hoping that America will, in time, fill that void.”

Minister arguing for NI to retain access to EU FTA

When asked by AgriLand whether work could begin to re-establish access to the Canadian market for Northern Ireland processors, Minister Poots said he would make the case for the region to continue to be included in EU free trade agreements.

“We don’t accept that is lost,” he said.

“Number one: The UK is working extensively with Canada to develop a trade deal; and number two: Because of the protocol, Northern Ireland remains part of the Single Market and we are making the argument that in Northern Ireland, we should remain part of the free trade agreements that the EU has as well as the free trade agreements that the UK has.

We would hope to have the best of both worlds so we don’t accept that that’s lost at this point.

“The US is one of the most difficult markets in the world to get into. The standards are extremely high, and consequently, when the US accepts the standards you are providing, that will open the door to other places as well,” he added.

UK exports of red meat to Canada have grown over recent years. Figures from Statistics Canada showed in 2018, shipments of pork, beef and lamb reached 454t, worth around £2 million – up from 271t in 2017.

It’s a market with plenty of potential for the future too. The Canadian meat sector is forecast to grow by around 3.7% in value each year between 2018 and 2023, driven by rising disposable personal incomes.