No-deal Brexit would damage food industry, Europe’s agri co-ops warn

Copa Cogeca has joined other sector bodies to request an extension to the transmission period to protect jobs and trade

As the fourth round of Brexit talks between the EU and UK ended in deadlock, agri-food industry bodies warned the sector could face falling trade and job losses if no deal is made.

Copa and Cogeca, the umbrella body for European farmers and agri co-ops, has joined agri-food trade body Celcaa and industry confederation FoodDrinkEurope to express concern at the lack of progress. They warn there is a serious risk no agreement could reached before the end of the transition period on 31 December.

EU agri-food trade with the UK amounted to €58bn (£51.6bn) in 2019, and the three organisations warn a failure to conclude a zero-tariff, zero-quota free trade agreement would have serious consequences for the agri-food sector in the UK and EU.

Copa Cogeca said: “The introduction of tariffs, combined with the potential for regulatory divergence, would severely disrupt integrated supply chains; our priorities for a bilateral trade agreement focus on limiting that disruption.”

The statement says it is essential that the future EU-UK relationship ensures:

  • no tariffs, no fees or charges, and no quotas
  • a level playing field between the EU and the UK to guarantee fair competition between EU operators and their UK counterparts
  • a high degree of co-operation on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical standards, plus minimal divergence in the application of such standards. In addition, it is of the utmost importance to keep a close relationship between the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).
  • customs co-operation to mitigate the burden of customs controls and
    procedures on business
  • effective rules of origin to make sure that preferential access benefits only EU and UK operators.
  • that the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is fully implemented in order to protect the integrity of the EU Single Market.
  • mutual protection of existing and future EU and UK Geographical

Copa and Cogeca, Celcaa and FoodDrinkEurope say they are particularly concerned about the limited amount of time left to conclude and ratify a trade deal.

“We regret that the UK government is currently opposed to any extension of the post-Brexit transition period beyond,” they added. “The transition should be of sufficient length for businesses to plan and prepare for any FTA arrangements, and to avoid a cliff-edge situation.

“We urge 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. 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 Covid-19.”

And they warn: “The combination of no agreement and no extension of transitional arrangements would have significant negative consequences for the EU agri-food sector. These can be expected to include a major decrease in export volumes from the EU to the UK, a significant fall in revenue, and consequential job losses. The impact on SMEs, farmers and agri cooperatives would be particularly detrimental.

“In view of the stocktaking exercise foreseen for later in June, we hope our concerns will be considered and that the negotiation process will move forward in a swift and constructive manner.

“Looking at the ambition and significant level of consensus yet to be found, we 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.”