Farm organisations respond to latest Brexit developments

UFU president Barclay Bell
UFU president Barclay Bell

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Barclay Bell says he is concerned that the UK wants to apply its own tariffs and trade policy for goods intended for the UK market. The comments follow a Brexit speech by the Prime Minister last week on the UK’s future economic partnership with the European Union.

Mr Bell said: “Since the outset of this process, it has been one of our major concerns to ensure that production here is not undermined by inferior imports. However, we are encouraged that the UK Government has recognised the high environmental and animal welfare standards of the UK agri-food industry and that these standards will remain at least as high as the EU’s.

“The Government has recognised that this would constrain the UK’s ability to lower regulatory standards, which would be a particularly important issue in any future trade deals, but also acknowledged that if this happened, the British public would rightly punish any Government that did so.”

He continued: “In relation to future trade policy with the EU, the Union supports the Government’s fundamental principle that the UK-EU border should be as frictionless as possible, particularly with no hard border between NI and Ireland. However, a lot more detail is needed on what this will mean in practice.”

In terms of agricultural policy specifically, the Government’s intention to leave the Common Agricultural Policy and reform the management of our agriculture industry is clear.

“It is essential that if this happens, that we would take the opportunities which this would bring, to develop a policy which both encourages and supports sustainable, profitable farming and food production going forward,” said the UFU president.

“While it is encouraging to see the Prime Minister setting out the UK Government’s broad position more clearly, there is still a substantive amount of more detailed work to be done. Moreover, it is imperative that both sides of the negotiations ‘get on with it,’ to give much needed certainty to the agriculture industry to plan ahead.”

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, Irish Farmers Association (IFA) president Joe Healy is concerned that the UK is now heading for a hard Brexit, which will be accompanied by a commitment to a cheap food policy.

He said that the UK has come up with no new proposals to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland,

“They are trying to rerun the ideas they put forward last August of a customs partnership or a highly streamlined customs arrangement. It is impossible to see either of these proposals working in the crucial farming and food sector, if the UK does not remain fully aligned with the rules of the single market and customs union. The UK cannot be allowed to walk away from its commitment in the Joint Report of last December to avoid a hard border.”

Healy added: “Theresa May’s statements around standards and fair competition are vague and dangerously misleading. By setting their own standards and cutting tariffs on food imports from third countries, the UK could seriously devalue the British market for Irish beef and dairy exports and in turn destabilise the European food market.”