Farm and food co-ops urge EU to protect them from a no-deal Brexit

Copa-Cogeca calls for an orderly Brexit, including a transition period, to protect the agri-food chain

As Brexit day draws nearer, agri food co-ops in Europe are getting increasingly worried about potential trade disruption.

The sector has made recommendations to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, highlighting the lack of certainty over the Brexit process.

Copa-Cogeca – which represents European farmers and agri-food co-ops – joined CELCAA and FoodDrinkEurope for a meeting with Mr Barnier earlier this month. During the discussion, and in a follow-up joint letter, they expressed their concerns over the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit.

They believe that an orderly Brexit, including a transition period, remains the “only way” to prevent the UK’s exit from having a huge impact on the agri-food chain.

However, the sector insists the EU should get ready for a no-deal scenario. Enterprises from both sides, including agri co-ops, are already engaging in contingency and preparedness measures. In the joint letter the sector points out that “these measures will not prevent significant disruption of supply chains in case of a no-deal.”

Related: Get ready for no deal, farm co-op body tells members

According to the three trade bodies, smaller operators are facing export procedure for the first time and lack the required resources to prepare.

To address these concerns, they call on the EU to consider unilateral contingency measures specific to the agri-food sector. Areas covered include customs, labelling, food safety and phytosanitary requirements, transport and market disruption.

The UK is an important market for EU agri food producers, including co-ops, with total EU-27 agri food exports to the UK amounted to €41bn (£35.69bn) in 2017. The UK’s exports to the EU also reached €17bn (£14.80bn).

In terms of customs, Copa-Cogeca and the other signatories suggest temporary facilitated procedures for EU agri-food products that would allow the goods to be cleared at the premises of the operator.

They also want temporary measures allowing goods placed on the EU market before 30 March 2019 to stay on sale until they run out. The three organisations also want member states to coordinate efforts in capacity-building for customs authorities and in training for businesses, particularly SMEs that will have to operate at international level.

Related: UK retailers urge MPs to avoid a no deal Brexit

In relation to labelling, the letter calls for facilitating a smooth transition to label changes by adopting temporary measures allowing for a grace period of at least 18 months, so that operators can build this into their current label update cycle and incorporate all changes at a single time.

UK operators exporting to the EU could have to replace the UK address with an EU address. Similarly, EU operators exporting to the UK may need a UK address. The letter encourages clarifying the legal obligation for “establishing a business address” in the EU.

Regarding food safety, the three organisations suggest maintaining the full access for the UK to the RASFF, EUROPHYT and the Administrative Assistance and Cooperation (AAC) food fraud system, which, they say, will be mutually beneficial for the UK and the EU.

Agri-food businesses also want mutual recognition of SPS certification (food safety and phytosanitary) by the EU and the UK. They believe an acceleration the process for recognising UK certification bodies as a third country certification body to certify organic products for export to the EU is also needed ahead of 29 March for continued market access.

Regarding transport, the letter asks for ensuring continuity of licences to operate for EU haulers in UK and UK haulers in the EU for at least 18 months and maintaining harmonisation of all regulations and licences for drivers and trucks.

To prevent market disruption, agri food businesses suggest structural and adjustment funding available to operators and develop supporting policies to address the negative impacts. They also propose setting Emergency Brexit Funds and foreseeing plans for the use of market management tools, in particular private storage aids for some products.

Geographical indications (GI) and denominations of origins are another issue that needs to be taken into account. In case of no-deal, and until the UK establishes its own GI scheme, EU GIs will not be protected in the UK market. The letter argues that support from the European Commission will be needed to help GI rights holders to protect their GIs under the general trademark legislation and/or to submit their application for GI status under the future UK GI scheme.

“The exit of the UK from the EU without a deal will constitute a lose-lose situation for the entire agri-food chain. There is therefore an urgent need for time-limited EU contingency measures to decrease business risks associated with a no-deal Brexit and the UK must be encouraged to ensure reciprocity,” said the letter.