NFU Cymru President John Davies has emphasised to MPs that ongoing trade agreements and the development of future policy must not harm the important contribution Welsh farming makes to life in Wales.
Mr Davies was giving evidence to the House of Commons’ Welsh Affairs Committee inquiry examining ‘The economic and cultural impacts of trade and environmental policy on family farms in Wales’ on Wednesday 24th November, in which he underlined the integral role that Welsh farming businesses plays in the well-being of rural communities.
Future agreements must not undermine farming's high standards
Appearing before the Committee, Mr Davies stated that he did not want to see future trade agreements undermine farming’s high standards and values, which would in turn affect the viability of farming businesses in Wales and damage rural communities in the process. He also pointed to differences in scale and standards of production between Wales and countries with whom the UK Government is currently negotiating, or has already reached, trade agreements in principle.
He said: “There’s a great deal of volatility with trade deals and we are seeing regulatory burden increased here in Wales and across the UK, while imports are not subject to that. That is a worry. We need to work incredibly hard to make sure we have a fair deal going forward.
“I have a great deal of concern for future trade agreements - we have not set the bar very high. In the UK we have high ambitions and high requirements for what we produce, which is exactly what we agree with, but we then have an import standard that’s very different. I want us to make sure that we do produce fantastic food here in Wales but with a small, sustainable footprint. We have a very clear vision and ambition to be net zero by 2040 and provide the most climate-friendly food in the world. We do not want to see these aspirations undermined by market conditions that mean we are unable to compete with imports produced to completely different considerations.”
Trade and Agriculture Commission
Mr Davies also welcomed the introduction of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission but lamented the delay to it being set up, during which time major trade agreements in principle had already been reached with Australia and New Zealand.
As part of his evidence, Mr Davies made clear to the panel of MPs that the strong and varied contribution of Welsh farming businesses to life in Wales was unparalleled and should be considered sacrosanct. In particular, he highlighted the integral role that farmers play in their local communities and emphasised the number of Welsh speakers in the sector was more than double the national average, underlining that farming was a key component in Wales’ culture and heritage.
He said: “The family farm is incredibly important to us here in NFU Cymru and I really do believe it’s the backbone of our industry. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see my 91-year-old father work with my soon-to-be 21-year-old son on the farm, and this is happening across Wales. That blend of experience, ambition and excitement means we can have a great future, we just need to make sure we get a reasonably level playing field.
“The Well-being of Future Generations Act focuses on improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales and I think it’s paramount that all of those factors are taken into consideration in the formulation of future policy and the impact of future trade deals.”
Future policy must include a stability element
Mr Davies welcomed the recent announcement from Welsh Government Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths regarding ongoing support for BPS and Glastir schemes and the stability this had provided for the industry against the backdrop of considerable volatility. He also told the committee that NFU Cymru continues to lobby for a stability element as part of future policy arrangements in order to safeguard the production of high quality, climate-friendly food.
He added: “In terms of future policy development, we need a UK framework which identifies parameters in which we operate but we must respect devolution. We are different and we do have different priorities and ambitions, so we must retain that flexibility, but it needs to be within a framework that leaves a reasonably level playing field and allows for each nation to operate effectively. Agriculture is incredibly important to us here in Wales and we must get it right.”