Shetland food producers met with UK government ministers to secure commitments on export concerns.
The meeting saw Michael Gove and George Eustice reportedly offer assurances that they were working to secure a trade deal between the EU and that UK food standards would not be reduced.
It follows growing concerns over the uncertainty faced by food producers as the end of the EU transition period approaches about the possibility of tariffs on exports.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, who has raised concerns of Shetland’s farming and crofting community, led the meeting and said he welcomed the opportunity for business leaders to raises issues with ministers directly.
He said Mr Gove and Mr Eustice offered a commitment o measures to support sheep farmers in the isles in the event of a price crash or a “no deal” scenario and promised to maintain future livestock exports off the isles and into the UK market and beyond.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Carmichael said: “I am glad that we were able to secure this vital meeting and that isles food producers were able to secure commitments from the ministers on their concerns.
“The commitments on preserving live exports and support for lamb in the event of market disruption will be particularly crucial for isles producers.
“There are, however, still too many issues on which we need clarity.
“Exporters of salmon and other perishable goods are understandably concerned about the risks of bottlenecks in transport.
“Quotas and tariffs on exports to Europe would be enormously harmful as well if we do not secure a deal.
“A point that came up again and again was the importance of farming, crofting and aquaculture to the wider community.
“In the isles if opportunities disappear people cannot just commute to the next town over – they move away for good.
“If the Government wants to preserve island communities then they have to follow up on today’s commitments and support our future.”
A representative from Shetland Food and Drink said: “We have spent the last few weeks in discussion with our members about their concerns regarding the very real possibility of a No Deal Brexit.
“We represent over 80 members in the Food and Drink sector in Shetland now, and they cover a very diverse range of industry sectors, but many of the most serious concerns, as well as some of the opportunities people see post Brexit are incredibly similar.
“We were delighted to participate in this meeting and to be able to send Karl Simpson to speak on behalf of our members and give voice to those concerns in and arena where they can make an impact. Dialogue on all sides to find the best way forward from where we are now can only be a positive thing for us all.”
Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said: “I welcomed the opportunity to discuss vital trade issues for the Northern Isles with ministers today, given how important Orkney and Shetland are to fish farming production both for the UK and international markets.”
Lorna Scott, NFUS Regional Policy Advisor for Shetland added: “We have been calling for the UK government to take into consideration the whole of the country in their Brexit discussions and so this was a valuable meeting to have.
“It has been a record year for the sheep market in Shetland and we need to preserve that. In Shetland, we cannot diversify so easily and producing lamb is often the only option on much of our land, as well as significant to our culture, for example, producing the highest quality Shetland wool.
“It is very reassuring that ministers are committed to maintaining live export from the isles to the rest of the UK and beyond. Though it is a long journey, we work hard to maintain the highest possible standards in the country between Shetland, Orkney and Aberdeen. This journey is vital to the future viability of the entire agriculture sector in the northern isles.
“A strong agricultural industry has a multiplier effect for the whole community and economy, providing job prospects to more remote areas, creating the demand for butchers, abattoirs, markets, processers and shops, as well as producing healthy local food from a biodiverse environment. We hope all governments remain committed to investing in our vital industry.”
Highlands and Islands MSP and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy Jamie Halcro Johnston said: “I am pleased that the meeting between the UK Government team and the representatives from the Northern Isles was so productive.
“As someone whose family farms in Orkney, I am well aware of the importance of the Northern Isles’ world-beating produce and that local producers need reassurance their interests are protected as we transition from the EU.
“That is why commitments from UK ministers on the continuation of live exports to the UK mainland and, if necessary, support for the sheep sector are so significant and so welcome”.