National Farmers’ Union head urges ‘frictionless trade’ with EU

National Farmers’ Union criticised Liam Fox © WTO/Cuika Foto
Liam Fox © WTO/Cuika Foto

The president of the National Farmers’ Union has criticised the British government’s approach to Brexit for failing to prioritise the needs of the UK agriculture sector.

Opening today’s National Farmers’ Union conference in Birmingham, UK, the organisation’s president, Meurig Raymond, warned that if the UK withdraws from the European Union without a deal, it could have dire consequences for the country’s agriculture sector.

He insisted: “We must have frictionless trade with the EU. Everything else, including the final shape of any domestic agricultural policy, is dependent on that.”

Raymond also criticised Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, who advocated in a leaked report that, following Brexit, the UK might import products from the US. Such products would likely be cheaper than those obtained from Europe, but would also be of a lower quality; in fact, many are currently banned.

There are also external concerns beyond the low quality of the food, as the National Farmers’ Union president stressed: “Those who advocate a cheap food policy, of scouring the world for low-cost food should bear in mind the price paid in traceability, in standards, and in the offshoring of environmental impact.”

How could the government help the agriculture sector?

The comments follow a report released at the weekend from the Parliamentary Select Committee for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which recommended that because the EU is the UK’s single largest trading partner in agri-food products – accounting for 60% of exports and 70% of imports – the UK government should provide funding for British farming and agriculture in preparation for it to become more self-sufficient.

As well as potentially losing access to its largest market, the UK’s agriculture sector may lose the cheap European labour upon which many farms rely – particularly if the UK government sticks to its pledge to end free movement of people after Brexit.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Food, has designed a post-Brexit funding structure for farming which would support farmers providing “public goods” rather than replacing EU subsidies. These activities could include planting meadows, maintaining countryside and improving welfare standards for livestock.

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