Director general Ian Wright also told Food Manufacture it was his understanding that the government would publish a white paper to set out its Brexit aims in “late October or early November”.
The development came as the FDF, along with other trade bodies, voiced its concerns to civil servants at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and the Department for International Trade at an FDF-hosted roundtable event in London on July 26.
Three key demands
While details of the meeting remained confidential, Wright said government officials were in “listening mode” as the conversation centred on three key elements of Brexit – negotiations over the withdrawal itself, negotiations over the free trade agreement, and the legislative framework that would emerge from the withdrawal.
“The conversation was very positive,” said Wright. “It was great that civil servants were prepared to talk to us, and be relatively open about their concerns and the pressures on them.”
Wright said the challenge of limiting the free movement of labour while retaining access to the single market wasn’t discussed, as they were “political decisions”. But he expected there would be a point where the industry, either collectively or individually, would get an opportunity to speak to David Davis, secretary of state for Exiting the EU, to discuss how to bring together these propositions.
“The industry needed both a wide-ranging and skilled workforce with maximum flexibility, and access to the single market. At the moment we have both, but evidently it’s not clear how that will be achieved through the Brexit process,” he added.
‘Access to the single market’
Wright said the trade representatives present at the meeting “put what they wanted on the table, but there was no discussion of a possible trade-off at this stage”. He voiced concerns, however, about the level of resource available to the civil service, the need to reassure migrant workers, and the importance of bringing confidence-boosting measures into the economy.
“We’ll be looking for the government to take measures in its autumn statement to build confidence. We would like to see both the apprenticeship levy and the sugar levy paused, because they are burdensome measures that will impact our industry at a time of an economic downturn.”
Last month, the FDF published a manifesto on its priorities for the food and drink manufacturing industry post-Brexit. It focused on four priorities – workforce, international trade, regulatory stability and domestic support.