Protect agri-food sector, Swann urges

Robin Swann. (Editorial Image)
Robin Swann. (Editorial Image)

Local MLA Robin Swann has issued a challenge to DETI Minister Jonathan Bell to protect the agri-food sector.

The Assembly has called on the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister “to step up and take action to tackle the current crisis in our agri-food sector”.

He said: “The evidence heard at the recent emergency meeting of Stormont’s Agriculture Committee was a clear illustration of the scale of the crisis currently being faced by the Dairy industry.

“However, as my party colleague Jim Nicholson MEP has highlighted, currently a wide range of our local farming sectors are in serious financial difficulties at the moment; sheep, beef and potatoes farmers are all facing financial strains.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that the Going for Growth Strategy is a joint DARD and DETI document, and that the marketing and promotion of our agri-food products falls to DETI.

“There was a clear request made at the emergency meeting from both the farmers who presented and Dairy UK, that we should be seek ‘Preferred Nation Supplier Status’ with some of the international markets.

“This status can sit outside any international trade agreement and is something that our Executive can and should be working to obtain,” said Mr Swann.

He added: “It is through an agreement like this that some New Zealand milk companies have up to a 20% price advantage entering the Chinese market.

“We can no longer rely on, wait for, or tag on to the coat tails of the Republic’s Agriculture Minister when it comes to international trade agreements.

“We need to protect and promote our Northern Ireland farmers and our produce.

“The DARD Minister and especially the DETI Minister really need to improve their game,” urged Assemblyman Swann.