Agriculture Minister in the North Michelle Gildernew was today heading for a showdown with her UK counterpart and EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson.
Discussions currently taking place at the World Trade Organisation [WTO] in Geneva could have disastrous consequences for farming in the North, the minister warned.
She hit out at the line being taken by Mr Mandelson, and said it could lead to the WTO introducing rules which would be extremely damaging to the farming industry in the province – particularly as it was faced with a series of difficult issues at the moment.
Ms Gildernew said: “I do not support the UK position on these talks and have recently written in the strongest terms to Mr Hilary Benn, the British Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, re-emphasising the importance of agriculture in this region and pointing out that any steps taken on foot of the representations made by his government should keep this fact in mind.”
There was a need for balance in the negotiations and a will to protect European agriculture so that it was in a position to provide a secure supply of top quality produce in the future, said the minister.
She added: “It is my intention to champion the cause of the local farmer at every opportunity. I will work closely with the Dublin Government and my colleague Brendan Smith to have a collective approach on behalf of farmers across the island.”
She had also asked Executive colleagues to raise her concerns with Gordon Brown to give the issue added emphasis.
“In addition I am urging all agriculture spokespersons to make their voice heard in defence of farmers so that they are not put in an even more difficult position because of agreements over which we have little direct control,” said the minister.