Speaking at the inaugural Henry Plumb Lecture in London, Rogers said: “There’s no amicable no deal.” If negotiations between the UK and EU fell apart, food and drink manufacturers and other food firms would need to prepare to operate from March 30 2019 solely on the basis of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
This would have dramatic consequences for the agricultural sector, said the former UK permanent representative to the EU. “The EU would simply have no choice under WTO rules but to impose its Common Customs Tariff on UK goods.
“It can, without an FTA [free trade agreement] with us, only offer what it offers all other partners without a preferential trade agreement. That is not being punitive. It is what the WTO prescribes. That, of course, has much bigger implication for this sector [food and farming] because of some very high tariffs the EU applies, than for other sectors.”
‘That is not being punitive’
The best outcome for the food and farming sector would be a full preferential deal in the form of an FTA, preceded by a transition during which the UK would operate under the tariff regime of the Common Agricultural Policy, he said. During that transition, he hoped the UK would be free to start negotiating – but not signing – post exit deals with other nations.
But, he noted, Prime Minister Theresa May wanted neither a Norwegian relationship with the EU, nor a Canadian one. Norway co-operates closely with the EU, operating inside the European Economic Area with free movement of people.
Canada has a more distant relationship, with a standard free trade agreement. “This would not give the UK – particularly in key competitive services sectors – anything like the current levels of access for our exports to the EU market.”
EU negotiators believe there is “no unique, bespoke British model to be created somewhere between the two”, added Rogers.
‘Trade flows cannot just carry on’
While Brussels regretted the UK’s decision to leave both the Single Market and the Customs Union, they respected the choice, which would inevitably have clear consequences. Outside both entities, there must be “commensurate radical changes in the market access we enjoy to their market. Life and trade flows, cannot just carry on much as before”.
Responding to the lecture, NFU president Meurig Raymond said Rogers’ experience in trade policy and negotiating had crystallised the many challenges facing the farming and food industry.
“British farming’s role in producing food for the nation and caring for the countryside is unique and irreplaceable,” said Raymond. “For this sector to thrive and further this country’s ability to feed itself, we need to see policies that put profitability, productivity and progressiveness centre stage.”
For the first time in 40 years the government was taking responsibility for its own trade policies and that would bring “some friction”, he added. “It’s vital that throughout this process, farming’s voice is heard and we want to work in partnership with government to help them deliver policies for a competitive food and farming industry.”
Lord Plumb of Coleshill
The inaugural Henry Plumb lecture was launched as an annual forum for debate on food and farming matters. It was named after the former NFU president, who attended the event yesterday. Born on a Warwickshire farm in 1925, in addition to serving as NFU president, Plumb has served as president of the European farmers’ organisation COPA and the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. After his election as a Member of the European Parliament in 1979 he became its president in 1987. He has continued to promote young people in the agricultural sector through the creation of the Henry Plumb Foundation in 2012.