A veterinary deal with the European Union could increase UK agricultural and food exports by over a fifth, according to new research.

The research team at Aston University’s Centre for Business Prosperity and the University of Bristol, analysed the agricultural and veterinary aspects of trade deals around the world to estimate their impact on exports.

They then modelled the potential impact of different types of agreement on UK exports to the EU.

Veterinary agreements specifically focus on regulations and standards related to animal health and welfare, as well as to the safety of animal-derived products such as meat, dairy, and seafood.

They aim to align, harmonise, or recognise veterinary requirements and certifications, and reduce the number of inspections between countries to facilitate the safe and efficient trade of live animals and animal products.

The EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), implemented in January 2021, eliminates tariffs and quotas but does not remove non-tariff barriers to trade.

These can be particularly burdensome for agricultural and animal-derived food (agri-food) exports, involving complex rules and requirements, production of extensive documentation and veterinary checks.

The UK agri-food sector is a cornerstone of the UK economy, with exports worth £25 billion and employing 4.2 million people.

Although the sector is growing overall, exports to the EU shrank in 2022 by 5% compared to 2019, in part due to the new trade arrangements.

This has led to calls for an EU–UK veterinary agreement from business and agri-food organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry, British Chambers of Commerce, UK Food and Drink Federation, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and British Veterinary Association (BVA).

Veterinary deal

Analysing data from the World Bank on 279 trade agreements and export statistics from over 200 countries, the researchers found that shallow agreements, that went little further than provisions already covered by World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, had significant negative impacts on agri-food exports.

In the 203 countries studied for the research, positive effects of deep trade deals that included provisions on agriculture took between 10 and 15 years to manifest.

However, the UK might not have to wait so long, according to report co-author prof. Jun Du, director of Aston University’s Centre for Business Prosperity.

Prof. Du said: “There is no blueprint out there that mirrors the UK–EU relationship. Most veterinary agreements are agreed as part of a trade deal between countries that haven’t previously had close alignment and it takes a while for the benefits to take effect.

“Until recently, the UK had frictionless agri-food exports to the EU, so it’s possible that a supplementary veterinary agreement to reduce some of the frictions created by Brexit could allow trade that previously existed to pick up again quite quickly.”

The report was written jointly by prof. Du, Dr Messenger and Dr Oleksandr Shepotylo, senior lecturer in economics, finance and entrepreneurship at the Centre for Business Prosperity, Aston Business School.