The Grocer | 15 November 2021
British onion sector sold short by New Zealand trade deal, growers warn
By Simon Roughneen
British onion growers have echoed concerns flagged up by Labour’s Emily Thornberry that the recently signed UK-New Zealand trade deal will disadvantage the sector and see food producers in general “openly sold out”.
The shadow trade secretary last week tweeted how New Zealand-based onion growers had hailed the opportunities presented by the deal, which will remove Britain’s 8% tariff on New Zealand onions, and would mean “immediate millions in investment” for its sector, while “our own industry gets no extra support at all”.
Ali Capper, chair of the NFU Horticulture & Potatoes board, told The Grocer Thornberry made “a very fair point” on onions and described the agreement as “a one-way deal”.
The British Onion Producers’ Association said the UK’s market of around 70 million people meant the deal “benefits New Zealand onion growers” but the country’s much smaller market meant it was “less interest” to British farmers.
Meanwhile, British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward added the deal presented “an enormous opportunity” for New Zealand onion exporters.
The Department for International Trade sought to rebut Thornberry’s allegations late last week, labelling them “untrue” as it stressed the government provided “a wealth of support” to fruit & vegetable growers via its farming Innovation Programme, the Fruit and Vegetables Aid Scheme and the yet-to-open Farming Investment Fund.
It added the deal would also help keep the UK supplied with onions.
“The UK has a considerable import demand for onions and shallots, and imported over £129m worth in 2020,” said a DIT spokesman. “The UK already imports onions from NZ, around £4m-worth in 2020, complementing UK seasonality.”
But according to BOPA, the deal made little sense as “we can grow, store and sell British onions to British consumers for 12 months of the year”. Both Capper and Ward added the agreement in general would likely give New Zealand farmers advantages over British counterparts.
“We can’t see as many obvious benefits from the agreement as New Zealand can see,” said Ward, who questioned “if this is a political agreement dressed up as a trade agreement”.
The DIT said the trade deal would also “pave the way to joining the world’s fastest-growing trade area in the Indo-Pacific, presenting huge opportunities for British businesses”.
The government earlier this year agreed a similar free trade deal with Australia and wants to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-country arrangement that includes Australia and New Zealand, as well as Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy.