Tariff-free access to EU markets is essential, particularly for the Welsh sheep sector, the Farmers’ Union of Wales has said today.
According to the FUW, post-Brexit imports to the UK should be subject to genuine equivalence in terms of environmental and animal health standards and any agreement which allows free access to UK markets for EU agricultural produce must be accompanied by financial support for UK producers equivalent to the support received by EU farmers.
The Union further stresses that the EU’s New Zealand sheep meat quota should not be passed back to the UK as this is likely to add significantly to pressures on the sheep sector post-Brexit.
In addition, the FUW renewed its call on governments to proactively support UK food and farming through their own procurement policies, and by ensuring competition rules favour rather than disadvantage UK industries
For almost half a century, and most recently as members of the EU, the UK has been part of a single European market, which bans payments from being levied on goods travelling between the UK and other Member States. Critical to the agreement is the imposition of common tariffs on any goods entering Member States of the EU. Inherent to membership of the single market is the free movement of people.
FUW President Glyn Roberts said: “For agriculture, membership of the customs union has meant significant protection from non-EU food imports, increased competition from produce from other Member States, and unfettered access to EU markets – all within a single farm support framework and system of common rules.
“As a single trading block, the European Union negotiates trade deals with other countries as a single entity, for example through the World Trade Organisation (WTO), while countries which are not members of the EU must negotiate alone, and in the absence of trade agreements, are subject to default WTO trade rules and tariffs, which impose significant restrictions on trade.
“As such, establishing trade deals with other countries and trading-blocks – including the EU – is a major priority and challenge for the UK, and one regarding which there are a broad range of opinions.”
Most concerning for farmers Mr Roberts added, are proposals by senior politicians from across the political spectrum to increase imports of cheap food from countries with environmental, animal health, and in some cases human rights standards which fall well short of those legally required in the UK.
“Such policies would not only have a severe detrimental impact on UK agriculture and rural communities, but would also lead to an overall increase in environmental degradation and a fall in animal welfare standards – both issues on which the UK electorate has strong views.”
The Union believes that in terms of Wales’ three key agricultural products, namely milk, beef and lamb, there is significant concern regarding the implications for all three sectors.
“The loss of nearby and relatively affluent continental markets, and the degree to which these can be realistically replaced by markets which are much further afield, given the costs, logistics and reality of gaining similar access to alternative, by definition more distant markets is a real concern.
“In addition, if WTO or similar tariffs were to be applied to UK exports to the EU, tariffs for some products would markedly reduce the value of sales to Welsh producers,” said Mr Roberts.
Superficially, trade balance figures suggest that leaving the EU’s free trade area may benefit some products through the removal of imported produce. However, such benefits could only be realised if there is political support for trade policies which reduce imports from all other countries.
Complicating such perceived benefits is the seasonality of production, and the degree to which sectors rely on exporting certain types of products and cuts (‘quarters’) which do not generally appeal to UK consumers in order to balance carcass and product value.
“This is a particular concern for the Welsh sheep sector, where production is necessarily extremely seasonal and includes a significant proportion of lighter lambs (around 15 per cent) for which there is little domestic demand, and exports to the continent of certain cuts and offal make up a significant proportion of carcass value for the same reason,” added Mr Roberts.