The call comes amid pressure for more work to be done to prepare the UK for its third-country status and warnings over a “tsunami of red tape”.
NFU president Minette Batters voiced her disappointment over the apparent lack of progress in UK-EU trade talks to date, but said she was encouraged to hear that negotiators had agreed to increase the intensity of these talks over the next couple of months.
“The EU takes more than 70% of the UK’s agrifood exports, and it is essential this relationship is maintained through a zero-tariff, zero-quota agreement,” said Batters.
Her comments followed an online discussion of more than 150 politicians, food and farming groups and stakeholders, brought together to highlight the importance of agrifood trade between the UK and the EU.
“This event has shown that we, as colleagues and competitors across the UK and EU, are united in our call for free trade,” Batters continued.
‘Stand to lose’
“We all stand to benefit from a close trading relationship and from a thriving and competitive marketplace, and we all stand to lose if our relationship reverts to trading on hugely unsatisfactory World Trade Organization terms, and barriers are erected across borders.”
She pointed to a trade deal with the EU that would set a precedent for how the UK would intend to trade on the global stage, with particular focus on high standards of animal welfare, environmental delivery and safety on food imports.
“The UK Government needs to show it is serious about encouraging a progressive and profitable food and farming sector, and that means pulling out all the stops to reach a good deal with our largest and closest trading partner.”
However, whatever the amount of work put into setting up a free-trade agreement, this did not change the fact that, technically, the UK has not exported goods to Europe for the past 46 years – a major hurdle for many producers post-Brexit, warned the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).
‘Tsunami of red tape’
As Nick Allen, chief executive of the BMPA, explained: “Regardless of whether the Government secures a trade deal or not, British companies are going to be hit with a tsunami of red tape and extra costs.
“It really doesn’t matter what agreement is reached on tariffs or quotas or standards; once we’re out, the UK becomes a ‘third country’, at which point we have no choice but to introduce border checks and additional customs declarations.”
Allen lamented that, while the Government has known for some time that this would be the case, little had been done to plan for just how the new system for exporting into the EU would be implemented.
“Even preparations for a ‘no deal’ vastly underestimate the additional ‘boots on the ground’ this will require and the sheer scale of delays, disruption and extra cost that will hit our supply chains,” he added.
Meanwhile, a trade deal with the US could put food safety “at risk” and pose a public health issue, the Government has been told.