Food sector reveals core aims in Brexit trade talks

By Matt Atherton contact

- Last updated on GMT

The food industry calls for stability ahead of Theresa May triggering Article 50
The food industry calls for stability ahead of Theresa May triggering Article 50

Related tags: International trade, Eu

The food and drink industry has urged government to deliver a Brexit trade deal that would ensure stability and continuity for the sector, ahead of the triggering of Article 50 on Wednesday (March 29).

The Food and Drink Federation, National Farmers Union and British Retail Consortium issued a joint statement to ministers and secretary of states, highlighting priorities for UK food and drink trade policy.

Negotiations for a UK trade deal with the EU will begin after Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50.

The trade bodies called for a “smooth and orderly Brexit”​, by agreeing a transitional period for UK/EU trade. That would include avoiding “costly”​ customs checks, processes and procedures.

Tariff-free, two-way trade

An ambitious bilateral free-trade agreement should be negotiated with the EU, which offered tariff-free, two-way trade, the industry bodies said. Securing any existing trade arrangements with the EU should be prioritised, they said, at least until they can be replaced with acceptable alternatives.

They also urged government to engage in formal trade negotiations with non-EU countries, once the future relations with the EU were clear. Any trade deals with these nations should consider regulatory differences.

The joint statement said: “Our farmers need imported feed and inputs, and they need access to other markets for their products, especially where demand for these in the UK is insufficient.

“Our food and drink manufacturers rely on exports to grow their businesses and imports to complement their use of domestically produced ingredients and raw materials. Our retailers need access to a full range of goods all year round to balance seasonality and meet consumer demand.”

The joint statement came after the prime minister announced the trigger date for Article 50 last week (March 20). The two-year process of leaving the EU would begin this week, she said.

May’s key objectives

Agreeing a free-trade deal with the EU was one of May’s key objectives after the UK officially began its withdrawal, she said.

Speaking in Wales last week, May said: “I am very clear that I want to ensure we get the best possible deal for the UK that works for everyone across the UK and all parts of the UK when we enter these negotiations.

“I have set out my objectives. These include getting a good free-trade deal. They include putting issues like continuing working together on issues like security at the core of what we are doing. We are going to be out there, negotiating hard, delivering on what the British people voted for.”

Meanwhile, Scottish food and drink exports to the EU accounted for 42% of its total overseas sales last year, the Scottish government revealed last week (March 19). The EU was Scotland’s biggest export market, in a year of record overseas sales​ of £5.5bn.

Trade bodies’ core Brexit trade objectives

  • Ensure a smooth and orderly Brexit by agreeing transitional arrangements that maintain frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU, avoiding costly and disruptive customs checks, processes and procedures
  • Avoid customs duties on trade by securing an ambitious bilateral free-trade agreement with the EU that delivers two-way, tariff-free trade
  • Establish the UK as an independent member of the World Trade Organisation, providing continuity and predictability by adopting the EU’s current schedule of Most Favoured Nation bound tariff rates
  • Secure the benefits for UK traders of existing EU preferential trade arrangements, including the UK’s fair share of tariff rate quotas for agricultural imports, as well as of any preferential access for UK food and drink exports, at least until government can replace them with acceptable alternative arrangements.
  • Engage in formal trade negotiations with third countries when the terms of the UK’s future trading relations with the EU and other existing preferential trading partners are clear 
  • Establish cooperation with third countries on regulatory equivalence and ensuring that all new trade agreements take into consideration differences in regulations and standards when market access is negotiated
  • Consult with stakeholders and undertaking detailed economic impact assessments when trade negotiations are opened and before any offers are exchanged.  

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