An increase in beef exports following a tariff-free trade deal with Australia could have a big impact on British producers, say meat processors.
The Australians insist that they won’t be sending huge volumes of meat to the UK – but the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) says even a small volume of imported meat could have a disproportionately big effect on UK farmers.
BMPA trade policy adviser Peter Hardwick said: “It’s not the amount of meat by weight that matters it is the amount of high-end, high value cuts that will have a disproportional impact on the marketplace.”
A 17 tonne container with a full range of meat cuts might represent just 60 animals, said Mr Hardwick. But a similar shipment containing only high value boneless sirloins would have come from over 1000 animals. If it was full of fillet steaks, it could be three times that number.
Mr Hardwick said the key to understanding the mechanics of global trade in meat was how the value from each animal is made up. Products like mince, stewing joints and even roasting joints were the least profitable – and sometimes sold at a loss.
High-end cuts like sirloins, rumps and fillet steaks are where most profit is made. Without these higher value products, beef production wouldn’t be viable – regardless of where in the world it takes place.
Sustained competition from overseas for profitable high-end products would inevitably impact farmers and processors, said Mr Hardwick. It would force some British farmers out of business and weaken the UK’s domestic food security.
It was unlikely that this lost trade would be fully replaced by trying to compete in export markets further afield with the likes of Australia, added Mr Hardwick.
NFU president Minette Batters said a free trade deal with Australia would have serious implications for British farming – while seemingly offer incredibly little benefit to the rest of the UK economy.