WITH LESS than a month to go until the end of the transition period, Scotland's Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has written to the UK Government seeking help for farmers hoping to export sheep to Northern Ireland after Brexit becomes reality on January 1.

In the letter to Defra minister George Eustice, Mr Ewing highlighted new health requirements for sheep intended for breeding and production in NI, and the negative impact they will have on the sheep trade with Scotland.

Mr Ewing said: “A negotiated solution to the new conditions for trade between Scotland and NI or the EU has not been forthcoming. The Scottish Government has made a number of suggestions to mitigate problems with exporting sheep to Northern Ireland but they have not been taken on board by the UK. With only weeks before the end of the Transition, the UK Government need to urgently acknowledge the problems they’re creating for Scotland farmers – and address them before it’s too late.”

The full text of the letter reads:

"Dear George,

You will be aware from press coverage that there is considerable concern in the sheep sector about new health requirements for the export of sheep to Northern Ireland. The new requirements are that sheep must come from holdings that are members of the Scrapie Monitoring Scheme operated by Scotland’s Rural College – this would take three years to fulfil and the alternative of individual genotyping would be prohibitively expensive.

Other new requirements are that animals must be resident in the exporting flock for 40 days prior to export and they cannot be exported via a market. These are in addition to the existing DAERA requirement that these animals must be tested for and free-from Maedi-Visna at around one year of age, prior to export in order to keep Northern Ireland free from this disease. The bulk of this trade is in Blackface sheep from holdings in Scotland.

The new scrapie requirements arise from the Northern Ireland Protocol and the need to use Export Health Certificates for movement of sheep (as well as other animals and many commodities) because GB will be trading as a Third Country from January 1, 2021. At this late stage in the UK Government’s plans for EU Exit it is astounding that no scheme is in place to protect this and other vital trade with Northern Ireland.

This matter was raised with you in the Scottish Parliament on November 25, where you were asked by my colleague Emma Harper to reply by letter to her point, to date we have not seen a reply.

I am aware that our officials have met to discuss this matter and have considered several alternatives, however as we are so close to January 1, the options are severely limited. Nevertheless I urge you to find a way through this issue by working with the European Commission so this trade can continue in a free and unfettered manner. Many sheep farmers have purchased stock to trade to NI as they were not made adequately aware of the current requirements of the NI protocol. I would be grateful for clarity on what communications are planned on GB to NI trade in the next four weeks.

Fergus Ewing"

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick commented “We are aware of concerns around the potential disruption to the movement of high value breeding sheep between Scotland and Northern Ireland from the beginning of next year, after transition. Earlier this week I spoke directly with the Cabinet Secretary about these concerns.

“We welcome this action by the Scottish Government and hope that the UK Government can work toward a solution that prevents the establishment of a barrier. Movements between farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland are part of an integrated production system and should not be facing the same barriers that would be in place for exports.

“NFUS remains adamant that the UK and European Union must achieve a deal which results in minimal disruption to trade flows," said Mr McCornick. "The imposition of disruptive non-tariff barriers to trade between Scotland and Northern Ireland will have serious implications for all Scottish sheep breeders who supply this trade. This isn’t just about trade barriers, but the difficulties that will be created around export health certification and scrapie monitoring.”