'The UK food industry must not be sold down the river' - Norfolk farming leader's plea on Brexit trade talks
Brian Finnerty / NFU
Norfolk's farming leader has backed a report by MPs calling for a new government fund to help British agriculture adapt to any potentially-damaging financial impacts of a "no deal" Brexit.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee’s report “Brexit: Trade in Food” assesses the impact on different agri-food sectors if the UK has to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in the event of no deal being reached with the EU.
It concludes there is “no guarantee that a free trade agreement will be reached” with the UK’s most significant trading partner, and that reverting to WTO trade tariffs could have a “significant impact on agriculture” and could possibly lead to higher food costs for consumers.
But the report adds that “liberalisation of barriers” scenario could possibly lead to cheaper imports, “produced to lower welfare standards, and damage British producers”.
Among its recommendations is that the government should consider creating a fund to support the UK’s agricultural sector as it adapts to the post-Brexit environment, and should publish a sector-by-sector analysis of the impact of Brexit before the publication of a new domestic Agriculture Bill.
Norfolk farmer Tony Bambridge, who is chairman of the county branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), welcomed the report and said maintaining “free and frictionless trade” with the EU is a priority for East Anglia’s food industry.
“If we have to revert to WTO tariffs it would create a lot of risk as the agricultural tariffs are high, so for things we export it will be damaging to those sectors and the cost of imports would rise, affecting consumers,” he said.
“Equally if the government favoured a free trade with the world, it would see cheap food, but be devastating to the industry as we would be competing with the cheapest producers from around the world, many who have lower environmental, welfare and production standards, some of which are not permitted in this country. And the report does make this point. So the sector-by-sector analysis it calls for is valid.”
Another recommendation in the report is that the government should ensure that any new agreements are not to the detriment of the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, or food standards.
Mr Bambridge said: “I do not believe that the standards we have to comply with in the UK will lessen as we have a highly developed retail and food service sector that demands the highest standards for our consumers.
“This is something worth protecting and the reports makes the point that we, the UK food industry, must not be sold down the river with a clever trade deal that removes our protection and allows inferior standards to corrupt our supply chains.”
Efra committee chairman Neil Parish said: “60pc of the UK’s agricultural exports and 70pc of its imports are from the EU. In order to safeguard the livelihoods of UK farmers and guarantee domestic food security post-Brexit, it is vital that the government articulates its vision for protecting both. The first step in this process is creating an analysis of each farming sector before bringing the Agriculture Bill before Parliament.
“UK agriculture will need to adapt to the changed trading circumstances following Brexit, so the government should consider putting funding in place to enable farmers to do so.
“It is crucial that the government takes positive political action towards new trading relationships as a matter of priority.
“We should under no circumstances compromise on our world-renowned animal welfare, environmental, and food standards. Brexit should be an opportunity to improve, not undermine, our global reputation for quality.”