Food and farming industry welcomes Brexit White Paper

The farming industry has welcomed the Government’s White Paper that sets out plans for a close relationship with the EU after we leave the union.

The White Paper, which would still need approval at EU level, let alone in the UK, proposes the establishment of a free trade area for goods, including food and farming products. In order to achieve this there would be a ‘common rule book’ for goods, ensuring harmonised standards. This would remove the need for a hard Irish border.

Parliament would still set the laws and have the ability to choose to diverge from the EU rules, ‘recognising that this would have consequences’.

The White Paper also confirms Brexit will end free movement of people ‘giving the UK back control over how many people enter the country’. But a ‘mobility framework’ will be set up to allow UK and EU citizens to travel to each other’s territories, and apply for study and work.

The Prime Minister insists the close ties to the EU will not prevent the UK driving forward an independent trade policy by ‘striking trade deals with new friends and old allies’. The borders between the UK and EU will be treated as a ‘combined customs territory’ but the UK would be able to ‘control its own tariffs for trade with the rest of the world’ without causing border disruption, the document states.

However, difficulties the trade-off between close EU ties and new trade deals have been starkly highlighted by US president Donald Trump during his visit to the UK. He told the Sun in an interview that the UK will ‘probably not’ get a trade deal with the US, if the plan becomes reality. He said it would ‘probably kill the deal’ as it would mean the US ‘would be dealing with the European Union’ instead of with the UK.

Industry reaction 

The food and farming industry has generally welcomed the White Paper, however.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “The White Paper sets out the sort of Brexit trading scenario we have been arguing for – close alignment with EU rules and frictionless trade. That gives some clarity to the industry about the sort of trade deal we are seeking, even if there is still a lot of negotiating to be done before we have a final agreement.

“We welcome the recognition, in the form of a mobility framework, of the need for future arrangements to permit movement of labour between the UK and EU. It is critical that our industry retains access to both permanent and seasonal EU workers after we leave the EU, and we urge the Government to be more explicit in underlining this need.”

NPA senior policy advisor Ed Barker said: “The Government is clear that the arrangements leave scope for new trade deals, while ensuring standards do not deviate too far from EU rules.

“We welcome the Government’s continued commitment to maintaining our high standards of production under any future trade deals.

“We have already built up considerable bilateral trade flows in pork with non-EU countries such as the USA and China – there is no reason to suggest why this cannot continue to grow, even if it does not take place within an FTA. Although full FTAs are less likely with new countries, this agreement does recognize the need to maintain ongoing trade with our most immediate and important trade partner in food products- the EU.”

The presidents of the four UK farming unions – Minette Batters, NFU, John Davies, NFU Cymru, Andrew McCornick, NFU Scotland and Ivor Ferguson, Ulster Farmers’ Union – said:

“We are pleased to see the proposals agreed by the Cabinet last week included in this white paper, particularly given that the four UK farming unions have long-maintained that free and frictionless trade between the EU and UK is crucial for food and farming.

“If British farmers are to continue playing their part in providing high-quality and affordable food to the British public, as well as delivering for the environment, the principle of a free trade area for goods, including agri-food, is vital for our sector.

“British farmers produce food to some of the highest production and animal welfare standards in the world and we are pleased to see the government intend to maintain these standards as part of a deal.

“It is imperative that the UK’s independent trade policy does not seek to undermine those standards and establishing a close relationship with Europe will enable those standards to be continued.

“While the government has committed to ending free movement of people, there must be recognition of the importance of both seasonal and permanent workers from outside of the UK that help farms to continue producing food for the nation.

“The food and farming industry continue to urge government to proceed with an immigration policy that is based on fact and business need, reflecting the importance of these workers to our food and farming sector.”

CLA director of policy and advice Christopher Price said: “Since the referendum the CLA has called for frictionless trade and movement of goods across EU borders, so we are pleased the Government has recognised the importance of this for agricultural products. The UK’s future trading relationship with the EU must avoid damaging disruption to supply chains.

“We want to see exports for UK food outside the EU grow, and we think that increasing free and fair trade between the UK and other markets outside the EU is a positive government ambition. The Government’s commitment to increase agricultural productivity and deliver improved environmental outcomes is good news for the industry.”

Ian Wright, Food and Drink Federation, chief executive, said: “The UK Government is right to make no-friction trade with our most important trading partner its number one Brexit priority; it is extremely encouraging that the White Paper seeks to do so. Our food and drink manufacturers rely upon integrated supply chains, with ingredients and finished products crossing UK and EU borders frequently – nowhere more so than to and from the Republic of Ireland.

“It is positive that Government has heeded the consequences of friction for food and farming and for UK food security. “We need to understand much more about how the common rulebook will work in practice. Businesses and consumers urgently need clarity and confidence in the process for both following and deviating from EU rules.”

National Office for Animal Health chief executive Dawn Howard said: “The proposal includes regulatory alignment in ‘industrial goods and agricultural products’ so is a welcome move for our sector, which is highly regulated. We have previously supported the proposal for a close working relationship, even associate membership, of the European Medicines Agency.

“We therefore welcome proposals for an economic partnership and regulatory cooperation, including participation by the UK in the European Medicines Agency.”

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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.