Failing to conclude a trade agreement between the EU and the UK would have serious consequences for the agrifood sector, major EU agrifood stakeholders said on Thursday (4 June).
As the fourth round of negotiations on the EU-UK future relationship draws to a close, groups working in the sector have expressed their concern, with Farmers association Copa-Cogeca, the European liaison committee for agricultural and agrifood trade Celcaa, and FoodDrinkEurope, saying there is a “growing risk that no agreement will be reached before the end of the current transition period.”
They stressed that a combination of ‘no agreement’ and ‘no extension’ of transitional arrangements, combined with the introduction of tariffs and the potential for regulatory divergence, would “severely disrupt integrated supply chains” and agri-food trade between the EU and the UK, which amounted to €58 billion in 2019.
Will Surman, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, told EURACTIV that the consequences of a no-deal fallout could include “a major decrease in export volumes from the EU to the UK, a significant fall in revenue, and consequential job losses.”
He added that the impact on SMEs, farmers and agri-cooperatives would be particularly detrimental.
“We regret that the UK government is currently opposed to any extension of the post-Brexit transition period beyond 2020,” the statement reads.
“The transition should be of sufficient length for businesses to plan and prepare for any FTA arrangements, and to avoid a cliff-edge situation.”
Pekka Pesonen, Secretary-General of Copa-Cogeca, told EURACTIV that, from the farmers’ perspective, EU farmers are on “equal footing” with their UK counterparts and that it is of “crucial importance” that we come to a mutually acceptable agreement.
He added that these trade negotiations are unique given that we are starting from a common standpoint with common standards and that any change would mean we are now deviating, adding that the decision is now “in the hands of the UK government.”
These concerns come as EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier admitted in a press conference on Friday (5 June) that there “there has been no significant progress” in the latest round of talks between the EU and the UK.
Barnier also confirmed that there has been no breakthrough in the talks on fishing and the level playing field guarantees.
Copa-Cogeca, Celcaa and FoodDrinkEurope are therefore urging the consideration of alternative, temporary arrangements that could be implemented from the start of 2021, should it not prove possible to conclude an FTA this year.
They highlight that such temporary arrangements, which would need to preserve tariff and quota-free trade, would afford additional time for negotiators while minimising disruption for operators already coping with significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement also offers priorities for a bilateral trade agreement that would limit disruption.
Specifically, they say that it is essential that the future EU-UK relationship ensures no tariffs, no fees or charges, and no quotas, and stresses that maintaining a level playing field between the EU and the UK, as proposed in the EU draft agreement, is crucial for guaranteeing fair competition between EU operators and their UK counterparts.
Another key issue highlighted in the statement is the need for a high degree of cooperation on sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical standards.
In particular, they stress that of the “utmost importance to keep a close relationship between the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).”
Other priorities highlighted in the statement include customs cooperation, effective rules of origin, and that there is mutual protection of existing and future EU and UK Geographical Indications
The joint statement concludes by “strongly encourage both parties to agree on sufficient time to achieve a high-quality outcome that will preserve a level playing field and an optimal result for both parties.”
Concerns for the future relationship of the EU and UK agrifood sectors come as the UK gave indications on Thursday (4 June) that imports of lower-standard American food were now on the table in the negotiations, backtracking on their previous stance on this contentious issue.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now facing a backlash for this u-turn on a pledge to keep US chlorinated chicken out of British supermarkets under pressure from American negotiators in post-Brexit trade talks.
Edited by Samuel Stolton and Ben Fox