Thinking about the consequences of Brexit
On a hot day a group of leading experts on the CAP and related issues gathered in a basement in London to discuss the challenges from Brexit on Chatham House terms.
Concern was expressed about the capacity of a hollowed out civil service to deal with the issues. How could we administer the more targeted policy that was likely to emerge after Brexit? Government departments were structuring and organising themselves with some staff transfers taking place, e.g., from Defra to the Brexit department.
It was somewhat ironic that the first trade pact being talked about was with Australia with which we had a small volume of trade. They would free access for agricultural products, not least for sugar. What would the EU think about that?
There was no idea how tariff related quotas or the amber box could be shared out.
After Brexit, should the focus be on labour saving technology development? But how near and how feasible/financially viable were some of the big developments like crops being picked by robots?
It was pointed out that existing domestic regulations were backed up in terms of compliance and enforcement by the possibility of reference to the ECJ.
The CAP was designed to slow down structural change, so we could expect more farm amalgamations after Brexit. Asset prices would fall. However, it was agreed that there were many variables that affected land prices, not least the availability of tax relief. There was no simple relationship between farm support and land prices.
The issue of price volatility was noted and it was pointed out that the 2010 food security study was very reliant on the fact that we were in the EU. Vulnerabilities to climate change could increase price volatility. A lot of things that were not really about price volatility were badged as such.
As far as food security was concerned, the biggest problem was the lack of storage in the food supply chain and the resilience of the system.