Speaking in a debate last night (Tuesday) in parliament on the Impact on Scottish Agriculture of Tariff-free Trade Deals, Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, raised concern about the cumulative impact successive deals might have in "undercutting" the farming industry in Orkney.
Mr McArthur spoke in the debate of Orkney's "world-class" food and drink sector and a reputation "founded on high standards of animal welfare and environmental impact". Orkney's MSP warned that "it’s a commitment that comes at a cost. It should not – cannot – be done on the cheap. And it is a commitment that should be matched by those seeking to compete with UK producers in the UK market."
The UK Government has offered Australia a tariff-free, quota-free trade deal despite warnings from farming leaders. NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy has warned “UK consumers already enjoy some of the most affordable food in the world produced to the highest standards. Employment, the prosperity of rural areas and our high standards should not be jeopardised for the sake a headline-grabbing deal.”
Commenting after the debate, Mr McArthur said:
"Orkney’s farming sector enjoys a reputation for quality, built on ensuring high standards of animal welfare.
“Delivering that quality comes at a cost, however, and it would be unreasonable to ask our farmers to compete with lower cost imports that are not produced to the same high standards.
“There is understandable concern, therefore, that a succession of tariff-free deals might have undercut farmers in Orkney and across the UK. Moreover, it has implications for the UK meeting its aspirations in terms of climate change, habitat improvement and the protection of wildlife.
“Striking trade deals is essential for our future prosperity, but they cannot be allowed to hang certain sectors out to dry. Given the importance of farming to the future of many of our rural and island areas, UK Ministers need to take more account of the concerns being raised by NFU Scotland and others before signing on the dotted line.
Mr McArthur also took the opportunity to raise with the Minister concerns of the Scottish and UK government’s earlier consultation on proposed restrictions to live animal transport. He asked the Minister to update parliament ahead of the summer recess on the latest situation with regard to any future plans to further regulate livestock transport.
During the debate Mr McArthur said, “proposals issued for consultation by both the UK and Scottish Governments earlier this year caused real alarm within the farming communities in Orkney and Shetland.”
He went on to say, “Bluntly, as framed, the proposed restrictions would have closed down the livestock industry in the Northern Isles. And this on the basis of no credible evidence that the highest animal welfare standards are not already being met.”
Ahead of the recent election, Mr McArthur secured strong cross-party support to oppose any further restrictions to the movement of livestock from the Northern Isles to the Scottish Mainland. An update on any plans, following the consultation, has yet to be published, prompting Mr McArthur to press the issue with the Minister.