GIVING evidence to a powerful committee of AMs this week, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) Chief Executive Gwyn Howells acknowledged that preparing for four different Brexit deadlines has been tiresome for the industry over the past year.
He emphasised, however, that free and frictionless trade with Europe was still crucial for the lamb and beef industries.
Addressing a meeting of the External Affairs Committee in the Senedd, Gwyn Howells discussed the extensive contingency planning that HCC and others, in co-ordination with Welsh Government, had undertaken since 2016.
“Welsh meat exporters have been consistent in raising alarm at the prospect of massive WTO-level tariffs if the UK leaves the EU without a deal,” said Gwyn. “However non-tariff barriers such as additional paperwork and delays at ports are also a concern. In the event of a Brexit deal, a lengthy transition period may be needed to get these issues right. It was good to have the opportunity to discuss this matter with AMs.”
He added, “Companies, as well as customs authorities, will have to be aware of what’s needed in terms of non-tariff barriers, but with exporters having had to prepare for several political deadlines already, ‘Brexit Fatigue’ is an issue.”
Gwyn Howells referred to collaborative work, such as the Welsh Government-funded Enhanced Export Programme, which was showing dividends in growing new markets. But he warned that this could not replace free access to established European customers.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen trade begin with a number of new countries such as Japan, and there are promising signs that Welsh Lamb exports to the Middle East will be substantially up in 2019, partly thanks to HCC’s ongoing work in the region reinforced by Welsh Government help,” he said.
“However, the lamb trade to Europe is worth over £120 million a year, so continued free trade with our nearest neighbours is vital whatever political solution is found.”
Investment in Welsh Lamb vital
WELSH LAMB has a “fantastic name” all over the world but it was vital it received continued investment post-Brexit to differentiate it from keen competitors in the global marketplace, former Waitrose chief Lord Mark Price told farming industry leaders at Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) annual conference.
“Everything that we have become used to is about to change,” he said. “I would suggest there is no time to waste in developing a new, globally-minded approach and prepare to become match fit to win in a new global game.
“Your competitor is no longer the farm next door or even the neighbouring county- it will be Mexico, Argentina, New Zealand or Australia. In the future, the UK doesn’t have to just compete against the other 27 EU countries but instead will have truly global competition- and opportunity.”
Lord Price, a former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, and then Trade Policy, said differentiation was vital for Welsh Lamb, “Why is your product better than one from Ireland or New Zealand? Welsh Lamb has a fantastic name all over the world- but you still have to invest in that.”
He felt in the future the UK Food Service industry offered a fantastic opportunity for market growth for Welsh Lamb and Welsh Beef. “It’s around 35 per cent of the market here but in the US it’s 50 per cent and there’s only one way of travel so it’s a going to be a great opportunity.”
Lord Price was Managing Director of Waitrose from 2007-16. In his view, there were three potential European Union trade deal options for the UK post Brexit: No deal, a form of customs union and a free trade agreement. “I believe the third is the most likely long-term outcome. The UK strikes a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU and, in doing so, is free to strike other advantageous trade deals.
“Such a deal would be based on zero tariffs and regulatory alignment in areas where it made sense to do so- say pharmaceuticals or automotive, where frictionless trade is key- and in Food and Drink, given the importance of our relationship with Ireland.
“If there are tariff and regulatory alignment with technology to track goods, this could provide the components for having, as near as possible, frictionless trade- all of which suggests the UK can strike mutually beneficial trade deals internationally, reducing the cost of goods to British consumers,” he reasoned.
Regarding public concerns over the possibility of new trade deals enabling food imports such as chlorinated chicken, Lord Price said he felt the Department of Trade would ensure it operated strictly in line with established food policies as positioned by Defra on a wide range of matters including standards, labelling, welfare and packaging.
He said environmental concerns were moving up the political and consumer agenda. “I’ll leave for now the issue of how subsidies might swing to reward sustainable behaviour- but I would just like to remind you that it was more than a decade ago that Walker’s started to label carbon content on crisp packets.
“The scheme did not take off but I suspect supermarkets responding to consumers will move again towards measuring carbon impacts of their products and the Government will see this as an “oven-ready” popular tax.
“Red meat, I suspect, will face a challenge- which, from what I have heard from HCC and others today, you will be well prepared for,” said Lord Price.
In encouraging news for Welsh Lamb farmers, NFU Cymru has welcomed Waitrose & Partners plans to source all of its own-label fresh and frozen lamb from Welsh and British lamb producers 365 days a year from June 2021.
NFU Cymru Livestock Board Chairman Wyn Evans said: “We thoroughly welcome Waitrose’s commitment to stock 100% Welsh and British lamb from 2021. This comes at a time of great uncertainty for the sheep sector, so today’s news that Waitrose will be moving to a year-round supply of Farm Assured quality Welsh and British lamb is a welcome boost.
“This is a really positive move from one of the major buyers of lamb in the UK which highlights that there is a strong appetite amongst consumers for Welsh and British lamb products. We look forward to working in partnership with Waitrose to help further grow sales of great-tasting Welsh lamb.”
Payment commitment sought from minister
NFU CYMRU has asked the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to make an early commitment to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme in Wales for 2021.
In a meeting this week NFU Cymru President John Davies asked the Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM, to commit to maintaining the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2021.
Speaking after the meeting, John Davies said: “The events in Westminster these last few days mean that our future relationship with the EU remains as uncertain as it has ever been, with the prospect of a general election in the not too distant future, this means further political upheaval, and by extension more uncertainty. The fact that the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was not carried forward when parliament was prorogued means that the intended legal basis for setting Welsh agricultural policy has now also disappeared, and we are now essentially back to square one.
“At the end of last year, Welsh Government announced that the Basic Payment Scheme would remain unchanged in 2020; we welcomed that announcement as it offered Welsh farming some stability at a critical time. The uncertainty in the intervening period has only intensified, NFU Cymru considers the possibility of a disorderly Brexit to be a very live possibility, either after a failure to reach an agreement at the end of any extended Article 50 period, or alternatively if the UK fails to agree on a future trading relationship with the EU27 during the transition period.
“There are many factors completely outside of our control which considered individually or collectively would have a very detrimental impact on Welsh agriculture. NFU Cymru is very much of the view that this calls for a cautious and restrained approach from the Welsh Government when it comes to developing future agricultural policy. We would urge Welsh Government to take its time and not to hasten to move away from the present arrangements until we have a far clearer picture of the sort of future trading relationship we will have with the EU27.
“We fully respect that the timing and nature of Brexit, the general election and the fate of the Agriculture Bill are all outside the hands of Welsh Government, but what we do ask for is the support of Welsh Government on the areas that sit within its remit. In our meeting with the Minister, we have asked if she will make an early commitment to the continuation of the BPS unchanged for 2021.
“We have also asked the Minister to ensure that the additional £5.2 million per year for the next two years made as part of the UK Government’s response to the Lord Bew review last month is used as a top-up to the BPS. This funding has been allocated to Wales because average Pillar 1 payments have historically been lower in Wales than in some other parts of the UK. We therefore firmly believe that as the Lord Bew review was about correcting this matter then the additional money should be made as a top-up to the BPS and not spent elsewhere.”
Public want food standards maintained post-Brexit
THE GOVERNMENT should ensure that all imported food meets the same high animal welfare and environmental standards in place on British farms.
That’s the overwhelming view of the public according to new research carried out by ComRes on behalf of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ).
ComRes surveyed the public in September and found 84% support the view that imports should match British standards as Brexit threatens to open the door to imports from low cost producing, de-regulated markets across the globe.
The study found that just 16% would buy food they know is produced to lower animal welfare standards if it was cheaper than food produced to a high standard.
BGAJ President Baroness Rosie Boycott said: “The results of this study are a stark reminder to the government that the public values the high standards of British farming.
“There will always be countries able to produce cheaper food than Britain but it always comes at a cost. It could be the safety of the food, the farmer, an animal or the environment.
“With Brexit on the horizon, we’re on the brink of potentially seeing lower quality food imports flooding into the country.
“The survey resoundingly shows there’s no appetite for it and it’s the responsibility of government and the entire supply chain to put the safeguards in place to protect both British farmers and the consumer, whose heads may still be turned by attractive price deals in tough economic conditions, despite how they have responded.”
The results of the study come at a critical time for British agriculture – a sector which stands to lose more than most if the protection provided by the European Union’s single market is not replicated post-Brexit.
British standards of food and farming are among the best in the world thanks to decades of progress in the areas of production that matter most to consumers.
Many countries which can produce food cheaper than Britain often use production methods which are illegal here and across Europe; chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef being two well-reported examples.
Professor of Food Policy at the University of London, Tim Lang, said: “An overwhelming 84% want imported food to be of the same standard as home-produced food. Gung-ho supporters of yoking the UK to the USA post-Brexit should note this
“The survey suggests the UK public almost certainly recognises the need for the UK farming to tick lots of boxes. It’s got the message that farming is multi-functional. But have the politicians?”
84% of GB adults agree the government should ensure all imported food meets the same environmental and animal welfare standards as food produced in the UK. Only 2% disagree
A majority (53%) of GB adults would not buy food that is produced to lower animal welfare standards if it’s cheaper than food produced to a high standard of animal welfare. Only around one in six (16%) agree
Younger people are less likely to disagree with the statement than older people – it seems attitude to the trade-off between animal welfare and price swings towards animal welfare the older we get (45% disagree 18-34; 52% 35-54; 61% 55+)
62% of the public agree that UK farmers should receive financial support from the taxpayer to ensure a continued supply of food produced by British farmers post-Brexit, compared to just one in ten (10%) who disagree. 68 per cent of rural and 61 per cent of urban respondents agreed
Two in five (39%) GB adults agree that a UK farmer’s primary purpose should be to produce food rather than carry out environmental work, although just under a third (29%) disagree. 33% were not clear (26% neither, 7% don’t know)
CLIMATE CHANGE AND TECHNOLOGY
62% of the public agree farmers have an important role to play in generating renewable electricity from technologies such as wind turbines and solar panels, while around one in twelve (8%) disagree
Just under half (48%) of GB adults agree that a climate change levy should be charged on food with a higher carbon footprint, with the proceeds spent on encouraging carbon-friendly farming methods, compared to fewer than one in five (17%) who disagree
34% agree new plant-breeding technologies, such as genetically modified and gene-edited crops, should be used to grow food in the UK, compared to more than a quarter (27%) who disagree. Young people aged 18-24 are more likely to agree (46%) with the statement than any other age group
Retail and UK marketplace
Only 24% agree UK farmers receive a fair share of the profits made by retailers on the food that they produce, compared to more than a third (36%) who disagree. Rural respondents were more likely to disagree than urban respondents (43% rural vs 35% urban)
ACCESS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE
Almost two thirds (62%) of GB adults agree the public has adequate access to the UK countryside in terms of rights of way and footpaths, compared to just one in 10 (11%) who disagree. Londoners and those in the West Midlands were the least likely to agree with the statement (54% and 55% respectively), whereas those in Wales and the North East were the most likely to agree (both 70%)
Four in five (79%) adults are proud of the British countryside and the rural communities which sustain it, compared to just 3% who disagree. While urban respondents still have a high level of agreement with the statement (77%), almost nine in ten (88%) of rural respondents agree
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