Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union should start now, in order to prevent additional market uncertainty, the pan-European farmers’ association, Copa-Cogeca, told EURACTIV.com on Monday (27 June).
Analysts predict that the UK vote to leave the bloc will put additional pressure on already struggling EU agricultural markets.
Approximately €22.4 billion in direct payments to British farmers is earmarked for the period 2014-2020 under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This comes in addition to the €5.2 billion made available under the Rural Development pillar of the CAP.
€4.8 billion from direct payments will be used for green measures. Drawing on the rural development pillar, €4 billion from the EU budget and €5.5 billion from national contributions will be used for measures with environmental impact.
Considering that the CAP portfolio is already a complex issue, the UK’s agricultural relations with the EU are fully dependent on the redefined future ties between London and Brussels.
EU farmers want a quick Brexit
Reacting to the UK vote, Copa-Cogeca said it was a sad day for EU and UK farmers alike.
Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said that a key point for EU farmers would be to avoid any further disruptions to the European agriculture market, given the importance of the economic ties across the Channel, and the current agricultural market crisis.
“Its’ crucial to maintaining market stability. Over half of UK food and drink exports currently go to the EU and the UK market is also a big export market for food and drink exports from other member states providing European consumers with a good, diverse choice of quality produce,” he noted.
The farming community in the EU and the UK should not pay the price for international politics, he stressed, stating that the impact on trade should be minimised.
Asked by EURACTIV if the Brexit process should start immediately, Pesonen said: “In an initial reaction, Copa and Cogeca tend to agree that this process should start now to prevent additional market uncertainty and instability for another few months. But, we still need to see the outcome from the EU institutions this week and discuss it further internally.”
Commission is waiting
An EU official told EURACTIV yesterday (26 June) that all the issues related to agriculture “will be looked into in due course”, without further elaborating.
After the Brexit vote, EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan “regretted” but “respected” the decision of the British people to leave the European Union.
“I echo the call of President Juncker for a swift and decisive negotiation, pursuant to Article 50, in the interests of both sides. It’s essential that we set in train the essential steps to bring clarity and stability to the 27 member bloc as quickly as possible,” the Irish Commissioner stressed.
However in January, Hogan warned the British farmers over a possible Brexit, stressing that it would adversely impact British farmers.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, the Commissioner said that the CAP was a legally binding contract between the EU and farmers up to 2020, which could not be cut.
“However, outside the EU, agricultural spending would be subject to the same annual review by the British Treasury as any other department. Can farmers compete with doctors, nurses and schools in such a review?” Hogan asked British farmers.
Welsh farmers concerned
Despite being a net beneficiary of the EU, Wales voted overall to leave the European Union, with 53% of its voters supporting Brexit.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones noted last week that participation in EU projects such as the Common Agricultural Policy and structural funds should continue.
“The UK’s withdrawal from the bloc must not cost Wales a single penny,” he stressed.
Welsh farmers are particularly concerned on the Brexit vote and ask for a “sensible timetable” to leave the EU.
Unlike EU farmers, they hailed David Cameron’s decision not to trigger the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Glyn Roberts, President of the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) which supported the Remain campaign, stressed that a rapid exit over a couple of years would not be in either the UK or the EU’s interests.
“There is a monumental amount of work to do in terms of changing domestic arrangements and legislation, including in terms of Welsh devolved legislation, not to mention unravelling us from the EU budget to which we were previously committed, negotiating trade deals and dealing with issues such as border controls,” Roberts said, adding that building a positive future for farming and the rural economy of Wales outside the EU needs a sensible timescale.”
He also noted that his organization had reached out to other non-member states in order to better understand agricultural models in countries such as Norway and Switzerland, and their application in Wales.
Young farmers in Lincolnshire
Commenting on the results of the referendum, European Council of Young Farmers’s (CEJA) President Alan Jagoe noted: “As a pan-European organisation we respect the decision made by UK citizens to leave the Union. CEJA will be following the implications of this decision closely over the coming months and years and will continue to represent the interests of European young farmers to the EU institutions, particularly in the face of such uncertainty.”
The President of the National Farmers' Union Cymru, Stephen James, said it was important there was a minimum of disruption to Welsh agriculture.
“At the forefront of most farmers' minds will be the twin questions of what level of access we will enjoy to the European markets and what level of support farmers in Wales might receive once the withdrawal process is complete,” he noted.
“We must ensure we have the best possible access to Europe's markets and an agricultural policy that guarantees parity of treatment with the rest of Europe. If farm businesses are to plan for the future then they need to know the answers to these questions sooner rather than later,” he added.
Meat Promotion Wales chairman Dai Davies stressed: “Our essential task in the long term is securing the best trading deals for Wales - maintaining our existing export markets in Europe, and continuing our work in developing new trading relationships further afield.”
Farm Europe, a think tank focusing on agricultural issues, noted: “Of course, CAP can definitely face technically and financially, the choice of the UK to leave the European Union. However, it must, above all, draw the necessary political conclusions.”
“It is urgent for the EU to assume daily its true responsibilities, and especially to support, one of the greatest achievement of European integration: the Common Agricultural Policy. This is part of a concrete and strong project on which Europe can and must rely, even though she has given a sense to ignore it lately.”