THE UK’s post-Brexit free trade agreement with New Zealand is causing division. Last week,the UK Trade Minister, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said anxiety over the deal was “misplaced” but Scottish Ministers and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board have warned it will “damage” and “negatively impact” Scottish farmers. New Zealand’s media even reported the economic impact for the UK will be “negligible” compared to their own. SNP MSP Jim Fairlie shares his thoughts on what the deal really means for us all.

Growing up as a “towny” in Perth, it was a bit of a struggle to find an opening that would allow me to pursue my dream of working with animals, and I mean any kind of animals .By chance, I ended up working in sheep and cattle farming, but that could just as easily have been a lion tamer if a circus had answered my pleading letters as a school leaver.

It turns out farming is in my blood, and I have loved almost every minute of the time I spent as a shepherd and hill farmer before I was elected to Holyrood a year past in May.

My passion for the work was as much about the feeling of purpose and community that comes from farming. That understanding that we are not only helping to feed the nation, we are custodians of the landscape that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to look in awe at the majesty of our mountains hills and glens or to sample our incredible larder of world-class food and drink with a reputation that other countries would kill for. Unfortunately, it is the UK Government that appears to be trying to kill this wonderful industry.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon announces rent freeze – how will it work and will it affect me?

At this moment, if you drive anywhere outside of towns and cities you will see the Scottish farming community working day and night to harvest the grain and bale the straw from this year’s crop. We are all used to the comfort of knowing food is secure, farmers are farming and that our countryside is being well managed. However, recent events have demonstrated that taking food security for granted is a dangerous assumption and far too easily forgets the lessons of the past.

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether we are prepared to dismiss those lessons based on a belief that the political classes (which I now find myself a part of) are so in touch that consumers needn’t bother and it will all be OK if we cross our fingers and hope. Or should we be making enough noise that the politicians hear the clamour and react with the right response?

It is crystal clear that the potential for politicians to cause damage to our farming communities and their way of life is greater now than at any time since the 1900s, when the liberalisation of trade saw food being imported in huge quantities from the Americas and witnessed mass abandoning of land as farmers simply walked off their farms and headed for the towns and cities to find work. But why should we care if it’s only farmers who are going to suffer as long as we can get cheap food?

The answer to that comes in the form of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, another reminder of how quickly life can be turned upside down. Who would have thought that we would bear witness to one European nation invading another in our lifetime? And yet, here we are.

It should remind us that at all costs we must uphold our food-growing infrastructure and capacity to feed the nation. The UK Government seem to have forgotten all those hard lessons in their desperate pursuit of free-trade agreements (FTAs) with anyone they can get them from, in order to justify their sinking of the economy with Brexit.

The National: Jim FairlieJim Fairlie

I suspect I will be lambasted for seeming to try to make political capital out of the invasion but we were sounding these warnings long before the war in Ukraine. The desperation of the UK Government to create trade deals with anyone, anywhere was evident to all, and it’s not only I as an SNP parliamentarian who has sounded the alarm but right across the industry. The list of those who have also done so includes the National Farmers Union (NFU) of Scotland and England, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association; the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland; the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers; the Scottish Crofting Federation; Scottish Craft Butchers; the Scottish Beef Association; the Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association; and the National Sheep Association Scotland.

Minette Batters, president of the NFU in England and Wales stated: “UK farm businesses face significantly higher costs of production than farmers in New Zealand. The government is now asking British farmers to go toe-to-toe with some of the most export-oriented farmers in the world.”

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said: “Having now signed off on a deal to grant unfettered access to New Zealand, another major food exporting nation, the cumulative impact of all such deals on Scotland’s farmers and crofters will be substantial. A cap on tariff-free imports is merely a slow journey to allow New Zealand, a major exporter of food and drink, unfettered access to UK markets.”

A massive volume of tariff-free New Zealand produce – which will increase in quantity year on year – will be introduced to the UK market threatening our domestic production and security of supply. Furthermore, it puts stress on our rural communities being inhabited, whilst our environmental responsibilities will be offshored.

If we look at the comparisons between the agreements made by the UK with New Zealand as that made by the EU and New Zealand, anyone who tries to tell us that we are being better served by a UK Government is either lying or hasn’t been paying attention to the details.

In the first year of the deal, the UK will allow 12,000 tonnes of New Zealand beef into the UK, while the EU has agreed to only 3333 tonnes across all of its 27 countries. By year 15, the UK Government will allow 60,000 tonnes of New Zealand beef into the UK, and after that an unlimited quantity, while the EU will cap imports at 10,000 tonnes, and still apply a 7.5% tariff.

The Meat Industry Association magazine in New Zealand recently ran two different articles about the respective trade deals. One bemoans the miserly concessions from the EU, the other celebrates a major win from the deal with the UK – that tells us everything we need to know about the winners and losers.

Having 60,000 tonnes of beef and 50,000 tonnes of sheep meat introduced into the Scottish market takes a huge chunk of business away from Scottish farmers and food producers and will ultimately deprive many of their livelihoods.

In contrast, the EU has applied an approach that will ensure theirs remain competitive and will maintain the critical mass for their industry, protecting the livelihoods of producers, and ensuring food stability and an ability to control their emissions by not offshoring them to other countries on the other side of the world.

During my election campaign, Douglas Ross wrote to farmers in my constituency telling them he was going to be the “farming communities’ voice and protector”. Clearly, he has failed abysmally and that leaves us to ask who is protecting us as consumers and Scottish farming in general?

Those who are arguing this is the Scottish Government’s problem because it is a devolved matter should take at a look at the UK Internal Market Act and the Subsidy Control Bill introduced by the UK Government since we left the EU.

The Scottish Government’s ability to control these issues is going to be hamstrung by the UK Government in Westminster. The Tories have already destroyed more than 100,000 fishing jobs by failing to negotiate a good deal for Scots fisherfolk while in the EU. Now it looks as if they’re hell-bent on the same fate for our farming and food sector folk outwith the EU – all yet again proving that, without a singular pro-Scottish voice in any negotiations, our industries and resources are expendable and at the mercy of being exploited by Westminster to our detriment.

Scottish Government ministers Mairi Gougeon and Ivan McKee have written to Penny Mordaunt, the UK Government minister responsible for this deal to demand in the clearest possible terms an answer to the question “what mitigations and compensation the UK Government will put in place for economic sectors and communities that suffer as a result of the UK Government’s trade deals?”

I am guessing the response, if there even is one, will be of no comfort to our farmers or those of us who take pride in our produce and solace in the fact we have the capacity to grow food to feed our nation. It will be the usual fare from Westminster – nothing but cold gruel.

If we want to protect our industries such as farming, fishing, food and drink or any of the other major resources that make our country so rich; if we want to ensure all of our folk have access to a plentiful supply of nutritious healthy food produced right here; if we want to do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint and maintain world-class welfare standards for our stock; if we want to maintain the treasures our landscape delivers and keep a healthy rural population, then we have to do our bit to protect all that we have.

That means we must take control of it by voting for our independence because without that ability we may well be on the cusp of yet another land abandonment and food insecurity that very nearly allowed Hitler to starve us into submission.