The Food and farming industry should not expect damaging exposure to sudden export trade tariffs when Britain formally leaves the European Union, according to the Farming Minister.
George Eustice said he expects a slick transition between trade policies so that food producers are not faced with barriers to selling commodities overseas.
Speaking exclusively to gathered media at the Northern Farming Conference on Wednesday, the pro-Brexit MP also said an “enormous” amount of work was underway at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to draw up a new post-Brexit British agricultural policy.
Appearing for the third time at the annual industry summit at Hexham Auction Mart, Mr Eustice said Defra would be ready for when EU membership is terminated.
He said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that notwithstanding the recent court judgement which we are appealing it’s our intention to trigger Article 50 by the end of March and from that point on there’s a maximum two-year period during which you have got negotiations. On that timetable we are likely to leave the EU sometime in 2019, possibly quicker. But I don’t think it makes a great deal of difference to Defra in that we are doing an enormous amount of analysis at the moment.
“We are having lots of meetings with different farming unions and stakeholder organisations to start doing the early stages of policy development for post-Brexit policy. And we are very clear we will be ready to have our plans in place for a new British agricultural policy when we leave the EU.”
The fragility of farming’s reliance on international trade was highlighted at the conference by Sir Peter Kendall, chairman of the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, who said 38 per cent of all British lamb is exported within the EU and when British exports were disrupted by Foot and Mouth in 2007, farm gate lamb prices fell by 30 per cent.
Asked if there was a risk farm commodities will be hit with tariffs when EU membership ends, Mr Eustice said: “I don’t think that’s the case because a crucial element of any deal to leave the EU will indeed be a new trade agreement that is put in place.”
It is unclear what framework British farmers will be operating under at the point the industry leaves the rule of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2020.
Quizzed on how government will manage the transition between CAP and a new British agricultural policy, the Minister said: “The truth is we haven’t resolved that particular issue yet and I don’t think we need to because the first stage at this point is devise what we think the end point is - what do we want our successor policy to look like?
“Once we have worked out how different that is to what we have in place now, that is the time to talk about transition from one to the other, and that is the time we can make the assessment about what timescale is needed for a transition.
“It is our intention this will be done in an organised, planned way and if we judge you need to have a transitional period to prevent turbulence then that is certainly something we would look at, at that point.”
CALL FOR FARMER ‘EXIT BONDS’
Newcastle University’s Prof David Harvey told the conference the chances of direct farm payments continuing in the same way as CAP post-Brexit were slim.
The best way of managing a transition from supported agriculture would be to pay farmers “exit bonds”, he said. Such lump sums could be used to adjust farm businesses in harmony with new farming policy and trade agreements.
And instead of through CAP, he said, the environment could be cared for by “grant in aid” paid by government to environmental charities for every public donation they get. The government would monitor how the money was spent and advise which environmental practices work best.