US trade deal will unlock opportunities - My article in the Scottish Farmer

Scottish Agricultural exports are among the best – my Scottish colleagues would say the best – in the world. Despite representing a Norfolk constituency, we can all agree that there is nothing better than Scottish beef or lamb to complete the perfect meal. With trade talks underway with the US, my team and I are determined to deliver a deal that works for Scotland and yields real results for Scottish farmers.

We already know that Scotland is a competitive high-quality producer, exporting around £2,300 worth of food and drink to the US every minute. A third of the meat and nearly a third of the grain exported from the UK to the US comes from Scotland. A trade deal with the US will unlock even more opportunities.

Yet, despite our success stories, too many Scottish farmers are currently locked out of the largest consumer market in the world. An agreement with the US could remove tariffs of up to 26% on beef, a market only recently opened up and worth £66m.

The US is the second biggest importer of lamb in the world, yet current regulations mean we cannot export there. Just a three per cent market share would boost UK exports by £18m. That is why the CEO of the National Sheep Association says a UK-US FTA “would benefit sheep farmers in all parts of Great Britain.” With 20% of the UK flock being reared in Scotland, why shouldn’t Scotch Lamb be seen on tables from New York to Los Angeles?

It is not just about selling more to the US. An FTA could also allow UK farmers to source better and cheaper inputs for production. There should be no need to pay over the odds. Cheaper fertiliser, crop protection chemicals, and feed will help increase margins. For example, if the average farm saw a 0.5% reduction in costs a year this could lead to £11,000 additional annual profit in 10 years’ time.

I know that concerns have been raised around competition and standards. But let me be clear, we will continue to uphold our high domestic and import standards in animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards. Now we have left the EU, the UK will decide how we set and maintain our own standards and regulations, and our independent food regulators will provide advice to ensure that food imports into the UK are compliant.

We will only agree to a deal that is fair for UK farmers. We will walk away from talks if a deal is not in our interests. That is why we are involving representative organisations including NFUs across the UK and the AHDB in our negotiations through the Strategic Trade Advisory Group and our sector specific advisory groups to ensure industry views are represented.

I am committed to negotiating the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of UK and I know that Scottish farmers will benefit from it. But I’m relying on you to maximise the opportunities that it will create. Our high quality, high welfare, and highly sustainable producers have a great story to tell. We should be championing this across the world.

That is why the Department has a network of advisers throughout the UK and US. They’re ready to help you enter the American market for the first time or to increase your presence if you’re already doing business across the pond.

Huge opportunities await Scottish farmers and we in the Department are only too keen to help.