SHEEP farming must not become a “sacrificial lamb” in future trade deals, the National Sheep Association has warned.

The NSA’S chief executive Phil Stocker has delivered a firm message to the International Trade Select committee, in which he said domestic sheep farming must be safeguarded amongst future trade deals with New Zealand and Australia.

Establishing new trade deals is a key part of UK government strategy and relates closely to the country’s departure from the EU.

Mr Stocker said: “For our sheep farming sector the trade deals with New Zealand and Australia probably present the biggest risks – these two countries along with the UK are the world’s three biggest players in sheepmeat exports – so there are similarities.

“But the difference is that of the three nations, due to the size of our population, the UK is the only one that also imports significant volumes of sheepmeat – a free trade deal with either of these countries for sheepmeat simply means one-way trade.

“At a time when our established trade with the EU is under threat, a trade that takes 35 – 40 per cent of all UK sheepmeat produced and totalling 96 per cent of the total UK sheepmeat exports, we must be aware that we could suddenly have little choice but to be more reliant on our domestic market.

“To be discussing any increase in access or liberalisation of trade between us and the two largest sheepmeat exporting nations can only cause concern within our industry.”

On international trade, Mr Stocker said the NSA was clear that any new deas must uphold the values and high standards of British farmers and consumers.

He added that open agreements without a form of market leveller to balance the difference in production costs would be damaging to the UK sheep sector.