No-deal Brexit prospect alarms U.K. producers

The National Farmers Union says leaving without a deal could lead to an immediate reliance on overseas imports

The likelihood is growing that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union March 29 without a deal, a scenario both the U.K. and the EU want to avoid.

National Farmers Union president Minette Batters has warned about the consequences for U.K. farmers should there be no deal.

“For example, a no-deal Brexit could lead to an immediate reliance on overseas imports, produced to lower standards, while many U.K. farms struggle to survive.

“Farmers want clarity on what the future trading relationship with Europe will be. We have argued for free and frictionless trade with the EU to continue, with no tariffs or non-tariff barriers,” she said.

However, the EU has already confirmed that in the event of no deal, it will apply its existing tariffs to imports coming from the U.K.

A list of all of the tariffs the EU would apply to the U.K. is set out in the EU’s Common Customs Tariff (CCT) schedule.

Using cheddar as an example, in 2017 the U.K. exported 364,024 tonnes to the EU tariff free. In the event of no deal the U.K. would face EU tariffs and the EU tariff on cheddar is $2,500 per tonne. This tariff would cost U.K. cheese producers the equivalent of 24 cents per litre.

Farmers and consumers in the U.K. could be severely affected by a no-deal exit, according to the U.K. Farming Roundtable, which consists of organizations representing farmers and growers from all agricultural sectors across the U.K.

They say EU legislation could result in a trade embargo on the export of U.K. animal-based products, such as meat, eggs and dairy to the EU. These products can only be imported by the EU from approved countries, and it could take months for such status to be granted to the U.K.

Many other agricultural goods, imported from the EU or exported from the U.K. to the EU could be hit with tariffs, some subject to the EU’s tariff schedule and others dependent on the policies of the government of the day.

Trade barriers would also likely go up between the U.K. and EU, which could limit the availability of many farm inputs, such as veterinary medicines, fertilizers, plant protection products, machinery parts and animal feed.

As well, because the EU would no longer recognize U.K. organic certification bodies, exports of organic products to the EU would be severely curtailed.

Labour shortages for harvesting and processing U.K. produce could also become a problem.

“Agriculture is the bedrock of the U.K.’s largest manufacturing industry, food and drink, which is worth £113 billion ($195 billion) to the U.K. economy,” said Batters.

“Volatile farmgate prices and interrupted supplies would put not only the 500,000 farming jobs at risk, but the many firms that supply these farm and land management businesses.

“Our organizations remain committed to playing their part in managing Brexit in the best interests of both farmers and the U.K. public in the years ahead, but we believe that leaving without a deal on March 29 will lead, very quickly, to a struggling farming sector.

“A no-deal Brexit must be avoided at all costs,” she said.

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