Prioritise food, urges industry as Brexit triggered

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

The Brexit clock will begin ticking after Article 50 is triggered today
The Brexit clock will begin ticking after Article 50 is triggered today

Related tags Scotch whisky Eu Scotch whisky industry World trade organization

The food and drink sector should receive priority in the forthcoming Brexit talks – which will begin after Article 50 is triggered today – urges a range of industry organisations.

The significance of the move and need to safeguard the interests of food and drink industry has been highlighted by a organisations including the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the National Farmers Union (NFU) and FoodDrinkEurope – the group representing Europe’s food and drink industry.

FDF director general Ian Wright said: “The results of the negotiation will have lasting implications – for our people, businesses and economy. Food is at the heart of our culture, identity and security. It is vital that the government prioritises food and drink.”

Triggering Britain’s formal exit process from the EU now meant “the clock is ticking”,​ he added. “We hope this means we can move swiftly from the realm of speculation into one where real issues are being resolved.”

‘The clock is ticking’

The FDF pledged to help the government to secure the best possible outcomes on future trade, access to the right workforce, regulation and ensuring “a seamless border”​ with the Republic of Ireland.

NFU president Meurig Raymond urged Prime Minister Theresa May to put farming at “the front and centre”​ of Brexit negotiations.

Farming would only get the right deal if its coherent voice was heard by decision makers and industry worked together to ensure that the country continued to enjoy great quality British food, the NFU said.

The NFU president highlighted the food and farming sector’s value to the UK economy of about £108bn, its total workforce of nearly 4M and its generation of about £18bn in annual export earnings.

Brexit to-do list

  • Ensure best outcomes on trade
  • Access to the right workforce
  • Access to the right regulation
  • Ensure “seamless border”​ with Ireland

Source: FDF

Describing Brexit as “a monumental time in the nation’s history”, ​Raymond said Britain had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of UK agriculture.

‘Monumental time in the nation’s history’

FoodDrinkEurope underlined the need to minimise the business impact of the UK’s departure on European food and drink companies and to establish a new and sustainable working relationship as quickly as possible.

FoodDrinkEurope director general Mella Frewen said trade in food and drink between the EU’s remaining 27 Member States and the UK was worth about €45bn, making it the EU’s largest trading partner.

“Exchanges both ways will be greatly affected by this decision, with economic consequences which still remain to be fully understood,”​ said Frewen.

“The time has come for both parties to engage in meaningful negotiations, to create certainty for citizens and business. We encourage negotiators to work for the best deal, one that keeps barriers to an absolute minimum.”

Minimising uncertainty for business, growth and investment should be a key priority, she added. “Ensuring the least possible disruption of trade in raw materials, ingredients and finished food and drink products, and minimising regulatory divergence, will be crucial elements in the negotiations for our industry.”

Also adequate time was needed to allow for the transition to new arrangements for the highly integrated and sophisticated supply chains that exist in the EU food industry.

Formal Brexit negotiations are scheduled to last two years but many industry insiders believed finalising divorce proceedings could take far longer than that.

Meanwhile, don’t miss other industry reaction in the box below.

What the others said about triggering Article 50

Julie Hesketh-Laird​, Scotch Whisky Association acting chief executive:

“Now that Article 50 has been triggered, the UK government can start the complex negotiations on exiting the EU. During these discussions on such a major change, the success of the Scotch Whisky industry should not be taken for granted. As a major manufacturer and exporter, the continued growth of Scotch will be a litmus test of the success of the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Some aspects of doing business won’t change for Scotch post-Brexit. Under World Trade Organisation rules, Scotch will continue to benefit from a zero tariff on exports to the EU. In many other markets, Scotch will also continue to see existing zero tariffs, for example in the US, Canada, and Mexico, as these are offered to all countries already. There are, however, many areas where Brexit could have an important impact on Scotch Whisky trade and we’re working with government to address those potential challenges."  

Josh Hardie​, Confederation of British Industry deputy director-general:

“Business has three suggestions to help set a constructive tone for the talks – after all it’s in everyone’s interests to get the best deal. Firstly, we want to see certainty for EU workers here and UK citizens overseas. Secondly, discussing new trading arrangements should go hand-in-hand with negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU.

“And we need both sides to commit to interim arrangements if a deal is not possible inside two years. Above all, UK companies need to know as soon as possible about the UK’s future trading relationships. That’s why the next six months are crucial."

Shada Islam​, Friends of Europe, director Europe and geopolitics:

“Today is a red-letter day, but not only for Britain. The EU-27 can make sure that the heartbreak of Brexit goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of a reinvigorated EU.”

Terry Scuoler​, ceo of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation:

“Now that the stopwatch on leaving the EU has been triggered the government must ensure Britain’s manufacturers are not disadvantaged in any way as we prepare to leave. I strongly welcome the prime minister’s positive tone in calling for a deep and special partnership with the EU as we must work together with our European partners to achieve a new relationship, and one with effortless trade, which works for both Britain and the EU.

“While she says there is no turning back, she must ensure that the government heads in the right direction and is not unduly driven by those who will pressurise her to leave the EU without a deal. That cannot be an option. Doing all of this within a two-year timetable will be fiendishly difficult, if not impossible, and Britain will need to seek a transition period to enable all sides to adjust and avoid serious economic shocks. Businesses must also be able to continue to employ and deploy staff as freely as possible. 

David Caffall, ​Agri-Brexit Coalition, coalition coordinator: 

“With the combined knowledge brought by all our member organisations, we have one of the largest pools of expertise in farm research, implementation and trade. What’s more, we deliver that knowledge in practical ways to farms and agribusiness every day.

“Making that expertise available to government as negotiations progress will help us achieve that best deal outcome.”

Glyn Roberts, ​Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) president:

“Now that Article 50 has been triggered we know there are just two years in which to deal with a huge volume of work. As well as pressing issues with regard to trade deals and negotiating the best possible exit options for the UK, we also need good progress in parallel in terms of reaching understanding and agreement between devolved administrations if we are to develop a home market that works for all.”

“Hours after last year’s EU referendum outcome was announced, the FUW called for the Brexit process to be taken at a sensible pace, given the huge amount of planning and work the process would entail.”

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