Farming organisations have warned that a Brexit no deal could have catastrophic consequences for the industry, following the publication of the latest set of Defra’s technical papers on a no deal.
The documents reveal that leaving the EU without a deal could leave the UK pig industry facing a disastrous situation where exports to the EU are blocked but imports continue to flood in.
The technical papers, released on Monday afternoon, includes an explanation of the implications for exports of live animals and animal products. In order to export to the EU, Export Health Certificates would be required from the end of March 2019, with consignments needing to travel through a Border Inspection Post within the EU.
The EU would require the UK to be a listed third country, but Defra acknowledged it ‘cannot be certain’ of the EU response to such a request or its timing. It is expected the process could take at least six months. Without listed status no exports to the EU could take place.
The total value of agri-food exports to the EU in 2017 was £13bn, of which £3.15 billion was animals and animal products.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “These technical notices confirm in black and white what we already knew: a no deal scenario would be catastrophic for British agriculture. A scenario where farmers face an immediate trade embargo for many of their products would have devastating effects, and would severely threaten livelihoods and businesses.
“While these notices are an essential part of Government planning, it is crucial that the Government does as much as possible to avoid disruption for farm businesses in all outcomes. We urge everyone in the negotiations to work to achieve a deal that delivers free and frictionless trade between the UK and the EU.
“The NFU has been clear that its priority is achieving this essential trading relationship with the EU, its largest trading partner, and we will continue to engage with the UK Government to reiterate the strategic importance of British food and farming to the country.”
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies warned this scenario could have catastrophic consequences for a sector increasingly underpinned by export trade. In the first seven months of this year more than 110,000 tonnes of pig products were exported to the EU, equating to nearly 60% of all UK pigmeat exports.
Dr Davies said: “A no deal could be the worst of all worlds for the UK pig industry. If exports are blocked but we continue importing pigmeat from the EU in large quantities, as the Government appears willing to do, it would blow a huge hole through the economics of the UK pig sector.
“Because of carcass balance issues, the UK would be swamped with pigmeat that had little value on the domestic market, dragging down the pig price and making it very difficult for many pig businesses to continue operating.
“As we have repeatedly stated, EU trade is critical to ensure the UK pig sector can function properly. It is therefore essential that the Government does everything in its power to secure frictionless trade after we leave the EU.
“But in the event of a no deal, we expect a much more forward thinking and cohesive plan from the Government than the flimsy and uncertain arrangements contained in this document. If the situation persists, it could result in the collapse of the supply chain with producers and processors going out of business.”
NPA senior policy advisor Ed Barker said the document also made it clear it would be difficult to export live animals after we leave the EU.
“It offers no real answers about what would happen to movements of pork products and live pigs across the Irish border. This could cause huge problems on both sides of the border.
“The Government’s approach to imports is also a concern. Brexit actually provides an opportunity to limit imports from areas that pose biosecurity risks to the UK pork sector. But from the evidence of these documents, the Government seems happy to do the total opposite.”
The British Veterinary Association said that even when access to the Single Market is achieved, there have been warnings previously that a no-deal Brexit could lead to a 325 per cent increase in the volume of products requiring veterinary certification as they leave and enter the UK.
The notices also advise that a new domestic version of TRACES (Trade Control and Expert System) – the web-based veterinarian certification tool used by the European Union for controlling the import and export of live animals and animal products within and without its borders — will be introduced at the beginning of 2019, with the aim of it being fully embedded by the EU withdrawal date in March.
The BVA said Brexit could exacerbate existing shortages and recruitment problems in the workforce and is calling for vets to be reinstated on the Shortage Occupation List to safeguard against shortfalls in capacity. Nearly half of vets registering to work in the UK every year come from the EU, and 95 per cent of Official Veterinarians working in abattoirs come from overseas, mainly the EU.
Simon Doherty, BVA President, said: “The technical notices really underline how a no-deal Brexit could put a strain on large and crucial sections of the veterinary workforce.
“The risk of shortages of OVs working in abattoirs or carrying out certification is well documented, but the impacts could also be keenly felt in the small animal sector if new pet transport requirements lead to a surge in demand for vets to carry out rabies vaccination and testing prior to travel. It’s highly likely that owners will not only be affected by veterinary capacity shortfalls, but also face long waits and additional costs for giving an animal the all clear to leave the UK.
“We are also concerned that BVA, the representative organisation for vets, has not been approached yet to get involved in the testing and training process for the new version of TRACES. As vets will be the primary users of the new system going forward, it is important to involve us early on to address any teething problems and ensure a smooth transition ahead of March.”