The trade deal agreed between the UK and New Zealand presents "serious concerns" for Northern Ireland's agriculture, Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has said.
The prime ministers of the UK and New Zealand – Boris Johnson and Jacinda Ardern – reached an agreement in principle last month on key elements of a new free trade agreement (FTA).
The legal text is to be finalised over the coming months.
Speaking of the proposed deal, Minister Poots said: “I have written to George Eustice to express my concerns.
"I have long maintained that tariff and quota protection must be retained for sensitive agricultural products with any increase in market access being limited via tariff rate quotas.
"Any imports must also meet the high environmental, animal and plant health, animal welfare and food safety standards that apply to domestic production."
UK-NZ trade deal 'a serious threat'
The minister said that he has "been clear" in his discussions with UK ministers "that tariff-free access to the UK market for New Zealand farmers produce is a very serious threat to our farmers, even if that access is phased in over a number of years".
“New Zealand is a very significant and competitive beef, sheep and dairy exporter and has the potential to quickly increase exports further with a view to targeting the UK market," the minister continued.
“I fear that if the approach that the UK government has taken with Australia and New Zealand is confirmed in the ratified FTA, then the agriculture sector in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will in the future come under severe pressure from imports with a resulting negative impact on farm incomes and viability.
This would be a disaster for our producers and rural communities and cause serious issues for food security at times when global supply chains are disrupted.
“It is absolutely crucial that Northern Ireland’s agriculture sector is protected and the integrity of our food standards are maintained.
"Consumers rightly expect high environment and animal welfare standards and high quality food - that means that all imports must meet our standards. That is what they will get with locally produced and reared food."
The minister added that he is "very disappointed that there has not been greater involvement of devolved authorities in the negotiations".
"This is something that needs to change in the future, given that this deal has the potential to have a significant impact on agriculture, which is a devolved matter," he said.
"I hope the government will urgently re-think the approach adopted to agricultural market access."
Farmers will 'continue to thrive through our deal'
The Department for International Trade has responded to the minister's claims, saying that maintaining high standards "is a red line in all our trade negotiations, and this agreement with New Zealand does not compromise the UK’s environmental protection, animal welfare or food standards".
“Farmers will continue to thrive through our deal with New Zealand," a spokesperson said.
Tariff liberalisation for beef and lamb can be staged over time and will give UK farmers time to adjust.
"New Zealand already [has] tariff-free access through its WTO quota, but in 2020 used less than half that quota.
“This deal will pave the way to joining the Indo-Pacific free trade area that offers huge opportunities for Northern Ireland’s farmers and food producers.”