A liberal Brexit trade policy could put farmers out of business, MPs warn

The NPA has welcomed a report from MPs that calls for the Government to ensure any new post-Brexit trade agreements do not compromise the UK’s high food production standards.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee published a report on the implications of Brexit for trade in food on Sunday. The report can be viewed here 

The report concluded that there is no guarantee that a free trade agreement with the EU will be reached. The resulting imposition of WTO tariffs could possibly result in higher costs for consumers, but lead to beneficial import displacement, notably for the pig sector, given the UK is currently only 56% self-sufficient in pigmeat, although the need for carcase balance would be a limiting factor here.

But the report warns that a ‘liberalisation’ that saw a lowering on tariff and non-tariff barriers in future trade agreements could lead to cheaper imports, produced to lower welfare standards, and damage British producers. Removing tariffs ‘could put many UK farmers out of business and render the UK dependent on imported food’, the MPs concluded.

The report said the agricultural industry needed clarity on the Government’s long-term vision, as reverting to WTO tariffs would have a significant impact on agriculture, given that tariffs are higher for agricultural products than for other goods and services

Key recommendations

Some of the key recommendations for Government included:

  • It should consider creating a fund to support the UK’s agricultural sector as it adapts to the post-Brexit environment.
  • It should publish a sector-by-sector analysis of the impact of Brexit before the publication of the Agriculture Bill, and publish the Bill as soon as possible.
  • It should begin to develop relationships at a political level with potential new trading partners.
  • It should ensure that any new agreements are not to the detriment of the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, or food standards.
  • It should make clear how it will deal with potential regulatory divergence with the EU, and ensure that protected geographical indicators are retained in a similar form after the UK leaves the EU.
  • It should agree Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs) for the agricultural sectors as soon as possible.
  • It must set out how it will ensure that IT systems and infrastructure are in place for the import and export of agricultural produce after we leave the EU.
  • Investment is needed in export certification systems and border inspection posts.

EFRA chair Neil Parish said: “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.”

NPA response

NPA senior policy advisor Ed Barker, who gave evidence in front of the committee, said the report also covered a number of issues specific to the pig industry.

He said: “The report highlighted the UK pig sector’s potential for further growth domestically and the need for effective marketing of our products abroad. It also reflected our concerns about the need for carcase balance to be taken into account in any assessment of the potential impact on the pork sector of new post-Brexit trading arrangements.

“The Committee noted the potential for more targeted regulations after we leave the EU.

“It also picked up on the current threat posed by African Swine Fever (ASF) and the devastating impact an outbreak would have on trade, and highlighted the need for an effective domestic policy on disease surveillance and prevention after we leave the EU.”

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Overall this was a very positive report that reflected many of the issues we raised in our evidence.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the need for clarity on the Government’s long-term vision for post-Brexit trading as this will have an enormous impact on the pig sector.

“We are pleased to see the Committee echo the industry’s concerns about the need to protect our high production standards in future trade deals.

“But we also agree that Brexit brings fresh opportunities, for example, in finding new markets, better regulation and incentives to invest under a new farm support system.”

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.