Farm industry calls for transition deal that sees UK in the customs union
The farm industry wants to stay in the customs union until a new trade deal is in place. It also wants to maintain high welfare & safety standards.
In a joint statement by the farming industry in the UK, they urged the government to secure “an initial transition period through which the UK retains unfettered access to European markets, remaining within the Customs Union”. The statement adds “such arrangements must be in place for the full duration of negotiations and implementation of a Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU that could extend beyond the end of the Article 50 process”.
The statement was signed by a total of 16 farming bodies including the National Farmers Unions of England, Wales and Scotland, the British Poultry Council, National Beef Association and Country Land and Business Association. You can see the full statement at cla.org.uk.
In calling for a transition deal that gives the UK “unfettered access” to EU markets until a new free trade deal can be implemented, the farming industry has echoed similar comments made by other industry leaders. In a speech last month, CBI’s director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said “the UK needs a bridge to the new EU deal” and called on the government to “seek to stay in the single market and a customs union until a final deal is in force”.
The farming industry’s statement goes further saying it is committed to “high standards of quality, welfare and provenance that sets out UK food in domestic and international markets”. This highlights the industry’s concerns that in chasing a trade deal with the US, we could end up accepting imports currently banned in the EU such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. As we reported in a previous article, even leading Brexiteers Michael Gove and Andrea Leadson (possibly influenced by being the current and former Environment secretary respectively) believe that such a trade deal could lead to the UK getting cheap, poor quality imports that could damage British farming. The British Poultry Council also criticised the possibility of weakening welfare and food safety standards. In a statement, British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said it “would be an absolute betrayal of the British farmers who work incredibly hard to maintain high welfare standards and animal husbandry practices to ensure that we have safe, nutritious and affordable food on our table every single day”.
Is the Government trying to sell out on our animal welfare and food safety standards as part of a makeweight in trade negotiations?
Throwing away a crucial food and farming sector would be an absolute betrayal of the British farmers who work incredibly hard to maintain high welfare standards and animal husbandry practices to ensure that we have safe, nutritious and affordable food on our table every single day.
Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council
Farmers should be concerned. As Reuters reports, pro-Brexit economists have argued the UK should unilaterally scrap all tariffs on imports. However, even they acknowledge that this could hurt Britain’s own exporters. Economists for Free Trade’s Professor Patrick Minford admitted before the referendum that such a move would “mostly eliminate manufacturing”. If the UK is importing cheaper food from elsewhere, the UK’s agricultural industry would also be in danger. Not only would it have to consider reducing quality and welfare standards to compete with them, this could also make it harder to export to the EU, its biggest trading partner.
The industry also highlighted the significance of farmers having access to workers and called on the government for a “fully functioning immigration system” to be in place by the time free movement ends. As it stands, the government has yet to formulate a policy for immigration post-Brexit.