British Agriculture Bureau update

Two months into lockdown and things are starting to ease, every day we are hearing more details about how the relaxation of lockdown measures will unroll but at the same time the impact of this pandemic, and the long recovery process we face, is starting to become apparent.

Whilst the world’s focus has been on tackling the spread of Covid-19, the wheels on the EU policy steamroller have continued to turn.

On May 20, two long-expected strategies were launched by the European Commission that will directly impact the way European farmers produce food. Part of the EU’s broader “Green Deal” commitment, which is aimed at climate neutrality by 2050, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy 2030 introduce highly ambitious, and arguably unrealistic targets, that will change the way food supply systems work across Europe. The ultimate goal is to make EU food production the “global standard for sustainability”.

These targets include proposals to:

- Reduce the overall use and risk of chemical pesticides by 50 percent and the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50 percent by 2030

- Reduce the use of fertilisers by at least 20 percent by 2030

- Reduce sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals by 50 percent by 2030

- Reach 25 percent of agricultural area under organic farming by 2030

As you can imagine, European farming organisations and others are severely sceptical of these targets, strongly warning that these strategies endanger food security, agricultural competitiveness and farming income.

Despite the fact that the UK has now left the EU, as our closest neighbours and trading partners, it is essential that we continue to understand what our European counterparts are doing when it comes to agricultural and environmental policy, even more so for farmers in Northern Ireland who may have to align with a number of these policies in the future.

The ongoing UK-EU trade negotiations are subject to the EU’s ambitions on sustainability, animal welfare and environmental protection. The EU expects the UK to align itself with European standards in exchange for tariff-free trade. The so-called “level playing field” is one of the main areas of contention in the negotiations and the Farm to Fork strategy adds to this contention with clear ambitions that all imported food must “continue to comply with relevant EU regulations and standards”.

Meanwhile, the UK has launched its own Command Paper which sets out its approach to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The paper outlines key commitments that will underpin the UK Government’s approach.

These include:

1. Unfettered access and no additional paperwork for trade going from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK.

2. No tariffs paid on goods that move and remain within the UK customs territory.

3. No new customs infrastructure. However, it is recognised that there will be some additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland.

4. New trade agreements signed by the UK Government will apply to Northern Ireland.

It is clear that there are significant differences in the approaches taken by the EU and the UK government. Despite both sides committing to maintaining high standards, the UK does not wish to relinquish its new-found sovereignty by agreeing to align with future European policies and the EU is looking to protect the single market.

Discussions over the Protocol and the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement are continuing however, and the UK has reiterated its commitment to protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all aspects.

The last round of virtual negotiations was due to take place on w/c May 18, and if good progress is not made both parties have until the end of June to call for an extension to the transition period (something the UK has ruled out). If this does not happen the UK will exit the transition period as planned on December 31, 2020.

The BAB team will continue to follow these discussions at a European level and keep members up to date with the latest news and developments.