Maintaining the same production standards as the EU for a time after Brexit is a price worth paying to avoid the “seismically bad” consequences of no deal, NFU president Minette Batters has said.
Speaking at an event in London on Thursday (25 October) that brought together EU farming union representatives, Ms Batters warned that it was vital to remain tightly aligned with EU rules, at least during the transition period, so that as frictionless trade as possible with EU consumers could continue.
This is also likely to mean an independent UK would be unable to roll back any of the EU’s crop spray bans, or have the freedom to introduce gene-editing or GM technology, and would not have a say on future decisions on standards but still have to comply by them.
Farmers face an enormous challenge to be able to keep producing the cheapest food in Europe while tackling Brexit-related trade issues and the loss of area-based subsidies, Ms Batters said, making frictionless trade more vital than ever.
“With 500 million consumers in Europe it is obviously a key market and it will remain a key market,” she said.
“This is globally unique, no one has done Brexit before and no one has gone to 100% Pillar 2 [environmental subsidies instead of area payments] funding before.”
International Meat Trade Association policy director Katie Doherty said in a worst-case no-deal scenario, the UK could be prevented from exporting meat to the EU for at least six months until it received status as an approved “third country” for trade.
Price of frictionless trade
Speaking at the same event, farm union representatives from other EU member states also made it clear there was no prospect of a better deal for UK farmers to access EU markets than the one they currently enjoy through membership of the single market and customs union.
Arnold Puech d’Allisac, president of the French farming union FRSEA, warned that coming to agreements over aligned production standards was only the first step to frictionless trade with the rest of the EU 27.
He also wants the EU to bind the UK into rules on competitiveness to stop it being a conduit for goods from the rest of world after Brexit.
Citing the example of cane sugar, he said it would not be acceptable for the UK to import this from the rest of the world and then send refined sugar to the EU as the EU would have both lost an export market to the UK and have less to sell into its domestic market as well.
Irish Farmers Association president Joe Healy also said that it would be unacceptable for the UK to harbour ambitions of a cheaper food policy that would disrupt EU food markets and damage European farmers.
He said: “I believe EU and UK farm leaders have a shared interest in ensuring that the UK, which is an important market for all European farmers, does not pursue policies that will further drive down food prices.”