It follows the deal agreed last month on phase-one talks covering payment terms, the border in Ireland and citizens’ residence rights post-Brexit.
Most commentators expected the really tough horse trading to begin now, if a mutually acceptable free-trade deal was to be reached.
The focus over coming months will be on what transitional arrangements with the EU will be agreed come March 29 2019 when Brexit is scheduled to take effect. Businesses are also interested in what long-term deal will be negotiated, although some have suggested that this is unlikely to emerge by that date.
The food sector wants assurances that tariffs and non-tariff restrictions on the movement of goods will not become obstacles and that access to EU labour will still be possible.
Welcomed the deal
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the deal hammered out by Prime Minister Theresa May and her team, following the early morning conclusion of negotiations with EU officials on Friday December 8.
FDF director general Ian Wright said: “We look forward to seeing the detail of what has been agreed on citizens’ rights and on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; both issues of critical concern to food and drink manufacturing.
“Time remains desperately short. We call for swift progress – not only on future trade relations between the UK and EU but, most importantly, on the detail of a transition period. This must maintain the status quo so businesses have the certainty they need.”
Dairy UK also welcomed the successful conclusion of the phase-one talks, which it described as “vitally important steps in the right direction”.
It also looked forward to the start of trade discussions, which it said would be crucial in ensuring that the UK dairy industry could thrive in a post-Brexit era.
“We are very pleased that progress has been made on these important issues, so that the all-important talks on trade can begin,” said Dairy UK chief executive Dr Judith Bryans.
‘Ensuring there remains no border’
“We have continued to stress how important ensuring there remains no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is to the dairy industry supply chain, which requires the transportation of raw milk and other products across the border without tariff or administrative barriers.
“We also welcome the commitment to protect the east-west border, as it is crucial there remains regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and Great Britain so trade can continue freely within the UK.”
Prior to the announcement, former international trade minister and former Waitrose boss Lord Mark Price had told the FDF President’s Reception that he was optimistic about a trade deal being struck between the UK and the EU, as well as deals with other countries around the world. “I feel confident that we can actually be a successful, independent trading nation post-Brexit,” said Price.
“The EU knows how important your sector [food and drink] is. The net surplus of exports from the EU to the UK are £10bn … and they have to get to a position very quickly where that is prioritised.”
He added: “I know that the Commission officials are working on that and I am sure that we will get to the right place.”