By Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross MP,

"THE BEST early Christmas present our farmers and our agriculture sector received was the announcement that a trade deal had been struck between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Like everyone, I would have liked the negotiations to have concluded much earlier, but the fact that the deal was agreed and the uncertainty and disruption of a No Deal outcome was avoided provided relief for farmers and allows the sector to look positively ahead into 2021.

This deal is a good one for our farming industry, irrespective of what you will hear from the SNP. As the Member of Parliament for Moray, I heard from local farmers how keen they were for an agreement to be reached, predominately, to provide certainty over their access to markets.

Those farmers in Moray and right across Scotland can continue to trade with zero tariffs and zero quotas on goods when trading with European Union countries. In fact, this is the first time the European Union has signed an agreement with zero tariffs and quotas, ensuring Scottish farmers can trade produce, machinery and fertilisers without additional costs. This is a positive outcome and the SNP must explain to our farming sector why they are continuing to be so relentlessly negative.

The deal allows Scottish farmers to finally cut ties with the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy, allowing a system which aligns more closely to the needs of Scottish farming. With these freedoms, I believe that funding from the Scottish Government to modernise agriculture is needed now more than ever. Productivity has dropped for three years in a row; incomes are down by almost 10 per cent while farm debt is at its highest since 1972. It’s now vital for the Scottish Government to start valuing and rewarding farmers for the important services they provide.

I was also pleased to see the UK Government announce a further expansion to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) last month. A key issue that Scottish Conservatives have campaigned extensively on to ensure our world-class soft fruit industry continues to flourish.

While I’ve outlined the many positives of this deal, I also know the outcome for seed potato producers is disappointing. It is important to make clear that discussions between the UK and EU on this matter are still ongoing and I have been speaking with Ministers about this. I believe a solution is possible and it was very welcome to see the UK sign a trade deal with Egypt which protects this large market for our seed producers.

Never ones to miss a political opportunity however, many SNP politicians started tweeting about seed potatoes, most of them for the first time, conspicuously ignoring the fact that 50% of Scottish seed potatoes are exported to the rest of the United Kingdom. The very market they would like to tear Scotland out of with many, including the First Minister, not ruling out another independence referendum this year.

The SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have never tired of saying how bad No Deal would have been throughout the negotiations, right up to the last minute. When it came to vote for this deal, why did SNP MSPs in the Scottish Parliament vote against it, leaving the only alternative as a No Deal Brexit?

Could it be that our farming industry who were raising concerns about leaving with No Deal were simply used for the SNP’s political gain? As always anything to help further their cause of independence will come above genuine concern for those who would be affected.

In the real world, the NFUS President Andrew McCornick said that the deal was of huge relief and No Deal would have been no good to Scottish farming, food and drink and the worst-case scenario of crippling tariffs for some sectors, particularly sheep and cereals, have now been averted.

This deal has given certainty to our farmers and it is up to all of us in politics, both at a UK and Scottish level, to champion this vital industry and support the transition. Anything less would be a real betrayal of the sector.

I’m optimistic about the future of farming in Scotland, an industry I studied and worked in long before I was elected. Let 2021 be a year we put Covid-19 behind us and see Scottish farming prosper."