How will Brexit affect British agriculture?
The latest National Farmers Union conference has highlighted some of the potential problems that British agriculture could be facing post-brexit. One speaker at the conference, Meurig Raymond, warned that “We must have frictionless trade with the EU. Everything else, including the final shape of any domestic agricultural policy, is dependent on that.”
This follows previous warnings from the House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs select committee, who have already said that the idea of the UK finalising a trade deal by the end of the transition period is “extremely ambitious”, and that many farming businesses could face the prospect of being wiped out when Britain leaves the EU.
But what are the main problems Britain is facing? Part of the issue is the country’s lack of self sufficiency when it comes to producing food. Experts have already warned that a lack of food is a serious possibility after brexit. Britain simply doesn’t produce enough to meet consumer needs and is very dependent on imports.
The committee say that dairy, meat and cereals would be among the hardest hit when it comes to the new tariffs and price rises are inevitable. The average tariff on dairy products is over 30% and imported cheddar cheese will face a 42% tariff if no deal is made. For frozen beef products the tariff could be as high as 87%.
In its most recent report, the committee has urged the government to start looking into contingency plans in order to protect consumers from these price increases. “Although the government’s intention is to agree a comprehensive free trade agreement and customs agreement with the EU, there is no guarantee this will occur,” the committee said.
It’s also been recommended that the government should look into the idea of setting up a fund to support British agriculture, who face the loss of EU subsidies along with higher tariffs. Food and farming provide around 475,000 jobs across the UK, many of which are dependent on trade with the EU.
In addition to this, the committee said the government needs to consider the promises that have been recently made by Michael Gove, the environment secretary, to maintain the current standards on food quality and animal welfare. “Whilst we recognise the huge benefit that trade agreements could bring, these must not be to the detriment of the UK’s reputation for high animal welfare, environmental and food standards,” it said.
Gove added: “I believe the most important public good we should pay for is environmental protection and enhancement. The work farmers do to ensure our soils can sustain growth in the future, woods are planted to prevent flooding and provide a carbon sink, and hedgerows and other habitats provide a home for wildlife should be properly paid for.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Leaving the EU gives us a golden opportunity to secure ambitious free trade deals while supporting our farmers and producers to grow and sell more great British food. Any future deal must work for UK farmers, businesses and consumers, and we will not compromise on our high environmental or welfare standards.”