The UK’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee has in a new report called on the UK government to establish a fund to prepare British farming for Brexit; a specific impact analysis for each agricultural sector; plans for physical and IT infrastructure to be drawn up now; and for new trading partnerships to be explored, amongst other measures.
The Brexit: Trade in Food report focuses on the impact on different agri-food sectors of the UK having to trade under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in the event of no deal being reached between the UK and EU after Brexit. This, the EFRA committee says, is particularly pertinent given the UK’s simultaneous withdrawal from the common agricultural policy, the impact of which will be specifically considered by the committee at a later date.
The report concludes that WTO tariffs could possibly lead to higher costs for consumers, but could lead to beneficial import displacement. “A liberalisation of barriers could possibly lead to cheaper imports, produced to lower welfare standards, and damage British producers,” it says.
The committee adds that the agricultural industry needs clarity on the government’s long-term vision, as reverting to WTO tariffs will have a significant impact on agriculture, given that tariffs are higher for agricultural products than for other goods and services.
When setting UK tariffs at the WTO, EFRA urges the government to understand that removing tariffs “could put many UK farmers out of business and render the UK dependent on imported food”.
It goes on to say that perishable agricultural products are more at risk from lengthy customs procedures and poor IT systems.
Recommendations to government
One of the recommendations that the committee makes to the government is to create a fund to support the UK’s agricultural sector as it adapts to the post-Brexit environment.
“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,” says EFRA committee chair Neil Parish.
The committee also recommends that the government:
- Sets out how it will make sure that IT systems and infrastructure are in place for the import and export of agricultural produce so that businesses can continue to trade smoothly with Europe and the rest of the world.
- Begins to develop relationships at a political level with potential new trading partners.
- Publishes a sector-by-sector analysis of the impact of Brexit before the publication of the agriculture bill, and publishes the bill as soon as possible.
- Ensures that any new agreements are not to the detriment of the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental or food standards.
- Makes clear how it will deal with potential regulatory divergence with the EU, and ensures that protected geographical indicators are retained in a similar form after the UK leaves the EU.
The EFRA committee is a cross-party group of MPs appointed to scrutinise the department for environment, food and rural affairs.
“60% of the UK’s agricultural exports and 70% 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,” says Parish.