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House of Lords report on food, farming and Brexit

30 May 2017

Following the ‘leave’ vote, many articles have discussed the implications of Brexit for the agricultural sector, particularly the likely difficulties, threats and opportunities. The actual implications have though remained unclear.

On 3 May 2017, the EU Committee of the House of Lords published its 90 page report on the likely impact of Brexit on the UK’s agricultural and food industries. In an attempt to add some clarity, it identifies facts and figures pertaining to the industry now and opportunities and measures that could be taken post-Brexit. Of course, the outcome for the industry will largely depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, which have yet to commence.

The main findings of the Report are summarised below:

  • Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy will, in the long term, allow a review and tailoring of agricultural, environmental and food policies to better meet the needs of UK farmers. Much EU regulation is bureaucratic, ineffective or ill-tailored to the UK;
  • In the interim, the vast majority of EU agri-food regulation should be transferred into UK law via the Great Repeal Bill;
  • In the short term, the Government must work with the industry to address issues including future funding. Many farmers rely on EU funding to keep their businesses viable, as does much of the wider rural economy. To date, the Government has confirmed only that existing EU funding will continue until 2020;
  • The UK is a net importer of food. This may strengthen its hand in trade negotiations.  However, the EU is the largest export market for UK agri-food products, so a free trade agreement / transitional arrangements are vital;
  • Export tariffs and non-tariff barriers (such as customs procedures and delays) would significantly increase the cost of exporting. Low tariffs on and increased imports from non EU markets could disadvantage UK producers in the domestic market and reduce quality and welfare standards. Sectors such as sheep and pig meat are particularly vulnerable;
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  • Increased trade with third countries will not offset any lost trade quickly;
  • The Government’s message to the industry is mixed. It envisages a free-trade nation with low tariff barriers but declares commitment to high quality and welfare standards in the UK farming sector. These objectives may be difficult to deliver in combination;
  • The UK agri-food sector relies heavily on overseas workers. The Government must address this when considering labour needs and access to foreign labour after Brexit. Some workers classed as ‘unskilled’ are skilled at sector specific tasks, such as crop handling and harvesting. Labour needs of the industry must, therefore, be served; and
  • Finally, UK bodies are going to need additional, long-term resources as a result of the repatriation of roles currently fulfilled by EU bodies.

If you have any questions about the issues raised in this article or about the impact of Brexit on your farm business, please contact Chris Anderson, Associate Solicitor at Hay & Kilner. Call 0191 232 8345 or email: Chris.Anderson@hay-kilner.co.uk