Farmers in Wales have been urged not to panic as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms.
Secretary of state for Wales Simon Hart reassured farmers listening in to the virtual NFU Cymru conference that, with less than 50 days to go before the end of the Brexit transition period, it was not unusual for negotiations on the scale of the EU trade deal to “go to the wire”.
“Anyone who has ever negotiated on anything will know that you have long periods of a stand-off followed by short bursts of frenetic activity, this should not cause panic at this point,” he said.
“This is a big one and it will go to the wire, but there is no reason for us to speculate that it will end badly.”
He was joined on the speakers’ panel by Liz Truss, the secretary of state for International Trade, who said it was in the EU’s interest to strike a deal since its exports into the UK were three times higher than the UK’s exports to the EU.
The government wanted a Canada-style deal that maintained the UK’s independence and sovereignty, she said. But if an agreement was not reached, the UK would “thrive” on Australia-style terms.
“It is important that we are clear about what we are prepared and not prepared to accept in those negotiations,” she said.
The minister acknowledged how important the EU market was for Welsh lamb, but added: “It is important that we open up new markets so that Welsh lamb farmers have alternatives to sell their products to.”
Japan trade opportunities
The trade agreement reached with Japan was a case in point, Ms Truss said – an accreditation process for exports of PGI Welsh Lamb and other Welsh products is expected to be completed by mid-2021.
The value of Welsh agriculture exports to Japan is currently £2m a year, but Ms Truss suggested that this accreditation would be worth £52m to lamb exports from Wales over a five-year period.
There were “real opportunities” to expand exports and the Trade and Agriculture Commission would ensure those deals were right for UK farmers, said Ms Truss.
“We have no intention of ever striking a deal that doesn’t benefit farmers, but we have provided checks and balances in the form of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. That is an important reassurance as every deal is different.”
Every deal would be examined on a case-by-case basis, Ms Truss added.