May proposes free trade, common rulebook for agriculture

The UK government has set out its proposals for future trade on agriculture and food products between the EU after it leaves the bloc next March.

In a White Paper [PDF] published on Thursday (13 July), prime minister Theresa May proposes an “economic partnership” with the EU post Brexit, which would include a free-trade agreement with a common rulebook for agri-food products.

This arrangement would see “no tariffs applied on any goods” traded between the UK and EU bloc and therefore avoid the need for a hard border and tariffs on agri-food products traded between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

See also: Analysis – what the Chequers agreement means for farmers

The plan outlined in the White Paper would take the UK out of the single market and the customs union and would instead create a “facilitated customs arrangement”, which would remove the need for customs checks and controls at borders.

This would “enable the UK to control its own tariffs for trade with the rest of the world and ensure businesses paid the right or no tariff”, the paper says.

The Country, Land and Business Association (CLA) welcomed the move, saying a free, frictionless trade deal should be the priority.

CLA director of policy 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.”

‘Step in the right direction’

Organic farm lobby group the Soil Association (SA) described the proposals as “potentially a step in the right direction”.

“Over the years EU countries have tended to be more supportive of organic farming and food than the UK,” said the SA in a statement.

“Frictionless trade with the EU is critically important for farming while the risks of trade deals with the US have been widely debated.”

It is important to note, however, this is not a final outcome, but the UK’s position for the next phase of negotiations with the EU.

The White Paper says free movement of European citizens will end when the UK leaves the EU.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, 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 the White Paper seeks to do so.”

The Confederation of British Industry said a free-trade deal would “make sense for both sides” and help protect jobs and investment now and in the future.

‘Ambitious’ free-trade deal

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Twitter that member states and the EU parliament would analyse the White Paper in light of guidelines drawn up by the bloc’s leaders.

He added the EU had offered the UK an “ambitious” free-trade agreement and co-operation on a issues, including a “strong security partnership”.

Mr Barnier said he was looking forward to further negotiations which are due to resume on Monday (16 July).

UK farming unions respond to Brexit White Paper

Free and frictionless trade between the UK and EU is crucial for food and farming, say farm leaders.

In a joint statement, the NFU, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland and Ulster Farmers’ Union said the principle of a free trade area with the EU bloc is vital for the food and farming industry to continue delivering high-quality and affordable food to the British public.

“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,” said the statement.

Farming union leaders said establishing a close relationship with Europe post-Brexit would enable the UK’s high standards on agri-food to continue.

“It is our sector’s hope we maintain the high levels of trade in agricultural goods between the UK and the EU, our largest market for agri-food products,” they said.

The government has committed to ending the free movement of people from the EU post Brexit. But farm leaders stressed that the importance of both seasonal and permanent workers from outside of the UK that help farms to continue producing food for the nation must be recognised.

All four unions have urged the UK government and the European Commission to work urgently to achieve an agreement on trade. “We look forward to working with both in the ongoing negotiations,” they said.