Be very, very afraid
At one point in yesterday's House of Lords committee evidence session, Professor Alan Swinbank envisaged a future in which there were fewer farming enterprises in Britain. I know that the committee were very interested in a paper he had written for the University of Sussex trade observatory entitled 'World Trade Rules and the Policy Options for British Agriculture Post-Brexit.' The contents, although rigorously argued, are somewhat more explosive than the anodyne title might suggest. You can download the full paper here: Key reflections
It is worth quoting a little of what he says in his conclusion. Professor Swinbank is one of the leading experts on the CAP, but also on agricultural trade policy.
He warns, 'It is highly unlikely that agricultural issues will determine the UK's future trade policy, as easy access for sugar, beef or butter to the UK's market for example could well be some of the key demands of potential FTA partners.' He continues, 'A unilateral reduction in tariff barriers to lower food prices and increase competitive pressures, would probably be unwise (although appealing to a number of economists) as it is those high tariffs that strengthen the UK's negotiating capital.'
He notes that alternative trade scenarios could result in a large number of farms being 'put under considerable financial pressures, with an uncertain impact on farming practices and the environment ... [Farmers] would probably protest vigorously if both taxpayer funded support and tariff protection were removed in a double whammy.'
In yesterday's session, Alan Swinbank was asked if any free trade pacts would be beneficial for agriculture. He noted that the real danger did not come from an agreement with the United States, but from agreements with Brazil or other South American countries, Australia and New Zealand. Australia would like to increase its tariff free exports of sheepmeat to the UK. Benefits could come from agreements with highly protected markets to which high value added goods could be sold: Japan, (South) Korea and Norway.
Further information about Alan Swinbank's remarks to the Lords committee can be found here: Irish Farmers Journal