The agricultural trade dimension of Brexit posed more threats than opportunities according to NFU Director of Strategy Martin Haworth. He was speaking at a EurActiv seminar on 'After the CAP: what future for British agri-trade?' in London yesterday.
He thought that there was a lot of optimism about how easy it would be to negotiate a free trade area with the EU. How far could one replace EU markets with third country markets? With no frictionless access to the single market, we were looking at second best outcomes, the question was how second best?
Even with tariff free trade, there would be barriers with customs procedures. There was a great potential for disruption with perishable goods. He had a number of campaign medals from the past, but none of these problems had arisen since we had been part of the single market.
He noted that the horticulture sector was very integrated through importing and exporting. (Later, this led to discussion of how it was not in Spain's interests to have salad exports to the UK disrupted).
Our food exports to Belgium were three times those of China, India, Russia and Brazil combined.
Peter Hardwick of the ADHB noted that the advantages of proximity and speed of delivery in EU markets. Logistical issues around rules of origin were far more difficult than tariffs.
Molly Scott Cato MEP noted that it was difficult to justify paying people for owning land. There needed to be a discussion in government about what the future farming model should look like. A Defra staff member confirmed that no green paper was in prospect.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said we were not having a discussion about how we wanted agriculture to look like in the future. Upland farmers could respond by intensifying.
Lord Teverson said that the future relationship with the CAP was critical. The sequencing of agri-trade deals was important. Supply chains were now important even for SMEs.
Martin Haworth emphasised that a defined transition period was needed for everything.