Farmers’ union fears impact of deals with US and calls for ‘frictionless trade’ with EU
The government must not allow farming standards to slip or be undermined by bad trade deals after Brexit, the National Farmers’ Union has said in a reference to fears that food standards will be sacrificed to seal deals with the US.
Those who advocate a “cheap food policy” should bear in mind the price that is paid in terms of standards, traceability of produce and shifting the environmental impact to other countries, the NFU’s president will say at the union’s annual conference where delegates and politicians including the environment secretary, Michael Gove, will meet on Tuesday.
Meurig Raymond will also tell Gove that farmers “must have frictionless trade with the EU” after Brexit.
He will call for clarity for the £110bn-a-year agriculture and food sector after a Commons select committee on agriculture warned that consumer prices could go up and farmers could go out of business if the country was forced to adopt World Trade Organization rules and tariffs.
At the weekend, the food and rural affairs select committee said the timetable for concluding a new free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 was “extremely ambitious”. In its latest report, the committee said the government must have contingency plans to protect consumers and business from the immediate impact of tariffs, which range from about 87% on frozen beef to about 42% on cheddar cheese and 50% on grated cheese.
Gove, who is also speaking at the NFU conference, is expected to renew his pledge not to let environmental and animal welfare standards slip. He has previously said that EU subsidies will switch towards payments for public goods such as environmental protection.
Gove believes leaving the EU will allow the government to put food at the heart of government strategy, so that the UK can develop its own “farm to fork” production strategy for the first time in almost 50 years.
He will acknowledge that food and drink is the country’s biggest sector, and exports have risen since the referendum and subsequent fall in the pound.
The aim is to open new markets and make a break with a past in which agriculture was given “insufficient weight” in government policymaking. That, he will say, was “lamentable” and a “mistake”.
Leaving the EU means the country is now “free to design policies from first principles that put British farmers and consumers first”, he will say.
He will also promise that the government will not allow animal welfare standards to be eroded. Farmers will be told that the government is seeking to fund a new agriculture policy that will preserve “the cultural link between farmers and the landscapes they maintain”.
“The work farmers do to ensure our soils can sustain growth in the future, woods are planted to prevent flooding and provide a carbon sink and hedgerows and other habitats provide a home for wildlife should be properly paid for,” says Gove.