EU Withdrawal Agreement: What it means for British farming

The first farm union leaders have cautiously welcomed the UK’s draft Withdrawal Agreement for leaving the EU. However, many are yet to make any soundings over how they feel the document will affect the industry.

Last night, the Cabinet gave its approval to the draft version releasing the 585-page document into the public domain.

The next stage in the Article 50 process is for the EU and UK political leaders to approve the proposed agreement before it is ratified by their respective parliaments.

Meanwhile, this morning there is chaos at Number 10 as UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has resigned citing the arrangements for Northern Ireland. NI Junior Minister Shailesh Vara and Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey also have handed in their notice to the PM.

In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, Raab explained that he resigned for two reasons: That the different arrangements for Northern Ireland threatened the integrity of the country; and the border backstop compromise, which he believes puts Britain in an unequal relationship with Europe.

What it says about trade

One of the key points of interest to farmers is that the Withdrawal Agreement ensures that a good that has already been placed on the market can continue to be made available on the UK market and the EU Single Market after the end of the transition period.

This applies to all goods within the scope of the freedom of movement of goods as set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, such as: Agricultural products, toys, textiles, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and industrial products such as motor vehicles, marine equipment, machinery, lifts, electrical equipment, construction products, and chemicals.

However, live animals and animal products, such as animal-derived food, will, as from the end of the transition period, have to comply with the EU or the UK’s rules on imports from third countries.

The transition period kicks in on March 29, 2019, and will last for 21 months during which the UK will be required to continue to follow all European Union rules.

PGI statuses

There is also good news for food products with specially-recognised statuses as more than 3,000 geographical indications to remain protected in the United Kingdom.

This agreement will also benefit the geographical indications bearing a name of UK origin – for example, Welsh lamb or Scotch Beef. These products will also obtain legal protection in the UK and maintain the existing protection under EU law within the EU.

Industry reaction: ‘A step in the right direction’

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) was one of the first farming bodies to comment on the document as it appears to essentially spare the Welsh lamb industry – at least for the duration of the transition period.

FUW president Glyn Roberts said: “The FUW has been consistent in its view that the best way to minimise disruption and economic damage to agriculture and other industries is to remain within the Common Market and the Customs Union after leaving the EU.

Anything that falls short of that will bring with it obstacles in terms of trade and other issues, with inevitable consequences for our industry and economy.

“The draft withdrawal agreement may be a step in the right direction away from the abyss, but until we have been given the opportunity to study the text of the draft agreement it will be impossible to tell whether that step is significant enough to mitigate any of the extreme risks faced by our industry and others.”

‘Still much work to be done’

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said it marked “important progress”, however, added that there was “still much work to be done”.

She called for UK and EU leaders to work together to finalise a Withdrawal Agreement to ensure continued free and frictionless trade after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019.

Batters said: “Since the EU referendum, the NFU has maintained that free and frictionless trade for British farming is absolutely critical.

“This trading relationship allows British farmers to provide safe, traceable and affordable food to the public, all while adhering to some of the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the world.

It is critical that we avoid the mayhem of a no-deal Brexit in March of next year, and this Withdrawal Agreement paves the way for a transition period that maintains free and frictionless trade with the EU, and provides stability for farmers and the wider economy.

“There is still a huge job to be done in negotiating the details of our future relationship with the EU: One that maintains free and frictionless trade, allows continued access to sufficient overseas labour where needed, and supports farmers in providing jobs and driving growth in rural communities, providing the raw materials for a domestic food industry that employs 3.8 million people and generates £113 billion in value for the UK economy.

“I hope this Withdrawal Agreement will now pave the way negotiating a future relationship that secures all of these vital objectives.

“Despite this progress, there is still much work to be done. I would urge all involved to remember the importance of British food and farming when considering their support for the new agreement.”