The food industry has called on the government to deliver an ambitious free-trade agreement with the EU as part of a number of policy priorities post-Brexit.
In a joint statement to the government a coalition of trade bodies consisting of the British Retail Consortium, the National Farmers Union, and the Food and Drink Federation warned that businesses could not operate in isolation and would continue to rely on imported feed and inputs and access to markets once the UK has exited the EU.
The group, which purports to represent the whole of the supply chain from farm to fork despite there being no foodservice representative body, called on the government to adopt an approach to trade that will ensure stability and continuity for agri-food and drink businesses post-Brexit.
Among its priorities are to ensure a smooth and orderly Brexit by agreeing transitional arrangements that maintain frictionless trade in goods between the UK and the EU; to avoid customs duties on trade by securing an ambitious bilateral free trade agreement with the EU; and to ensure that all new trade agreements take into consideration differences in regulations and standards when market access is negotiated.
The majority of food and farming regulations and standards are currently set by the EU. The UK would initially revert to World Trade Organisation standards as its baseline should a deal with the EU fail to materialise. The coalition is also calling on the government to secure the same preferential trade agreements with third countries for UK businesses as EU operators currently enjoy. It said that formal trade negotiations with third countries should only begin once the terms of the UK’s future trading relations with the EU and other preferential trading partners are clear.
Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 on Wednesday 28 March. The government has two years to negotiate a deal with EU leaders before the UK’s official exit.