The UK dairy industry should be "recognised" in Brexit negotiations and details of the upcoming Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) plans released early, Arla's UK boss has said.

Speaking at the International Dairy Federation’s (IDF) World Dairy Summit in Belfast, Tomas Pietrangeli said the industry was facing "the biggest seismic change in the political and financial landscape in our lifetime".

He warned that UK and European farmers needed to be given more "assurance" over what the future would mean for them.

Farmers in seven countries

The countdown to March 29, 2019 poses challenges for the co-operative - which is owned by farmers on both sides of the “Brexit fence”.

Through its dealings with farmers, and the rest of the supply chain, the firm maintains around 119,000 jobs in the UK alone.

It's estimated Arla brings more than £6 billion into the British economy each year; the equivalent of 0.33% of the total UK GDP.

The firm pays the same price per litre of standard milk to all of its 12,000 farmers, spread across seven countries.

Arla processes around 3.7 billion litres every year and exports to 69 countries, including 21 within the EU.

Stark reality

Pietrangeli called on the UK government to publish its future plans for agriculture in the UK through a parliamentary bill "at the earliest opportunity", adding that any delay would be detrimental to the industry.

There is a stark reality for dairy in the UK and trade barriers may ultimately reduce the demand of dairy in the UK. The worst outcome for Brexit would be a return to the WTO rules.

"UK dairy farmers should not be disadvantaged compared to their European neighbours," he said.

"While it's true that Brexit will bring opportunities, we need assurance that the transitional arrangements will require a free-trade agreement with the UK and the EU.

"Other EU countries are, by far, the most important trade partners for the UK; hence, we need to get Brexit right.

Planning ahead

"You can't just switch milk production on and off, as most of you know.

"The farmers who own Arla, and dairy farmers as a whole, need to know urgently what the government plans look like in the future for food and farming and that means early publication of the new agricultural policy next year. Any delays will be detrimental to our industry and for our long-term plan."

He said: "We need to have the best possible trading conditions with the EU. We need to get Brexit right. Trade with the EU is the most important market for UK dairy businesses and UK dairy should be recognised as a key player in Brexit negotiations. We do not want to see a situation where dairy businesses come under pressure because of restrictions on trading conditions.

For Brexit the central narrative seems to centre on what will happen on March 29, but there are plenty of plot twists and turns that can happen before then.

"There’s so much yet to be decided, so many details to be talked through – there are a wealth of scenarios which could unfold," Pietrangeli said.

Dr. David Walker, New Zealand's ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, told the summit that New Zealand had been agreeing free trade deals since 1983 and also worked through the WTO.

He said New Zealand hoped to make progress on a deal with the EU and, in the event of the UK leaving the EU, a deal could be arranged between New Zealand and the UK.