Trade deals are key to rural security after Brexit
Getting a poor trade deal for food, farming and forestry post Brexit would see food security and the environment placed in jeopardy '“ and consumers facing renewed food inflation and limits on the choice and variety of foodstuffs last seen 40 years ago.
That was the stark message given by two of the largest organisations representing landowning and rural business interests in the UK yesterday.
Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) and the Country Landowners Association (CLA) yesterday revealed a briefing which looked at the opportunities for agriculture and forestry outside the EU – and the risks which would be faced if trade declined substantially following Brexit.
Speaking at the launch of the document, SLE chairman David Johnstone said that while there could be considerable opportunities for the sectors, there was a history of agriculture and forestry being ignored or treated as a low priority when trade deals were negotiated.
“There are opportunities to develop new markets for farm and forestry products, but it is vital that government, farmers and foresters start working together straight away to negotiate the best deals with the EU and the rest of the world,” he said.
He also warned of “serious consequences” if the politicians failed to get a good deal, adding: “The public are used to a level of food choice that is only possible through strong import and export markets.
“If we don’t have this, we could see food prices on the shelves rising and a stark lack of choice that would take the consumer back 40 years or more.”
Johnstone added that without strong markets many farmers and foresters could go out of business – with knock-on consequences for stewardship of the land and the environment and the additional public benefits.
He said that much of the produce grown and reared in the UK was of world-beating quality and this allowed producers to compete on the global stage.
“Farmers and foresters want to provide the country with high-quality products and in turn be able to carry on their good work improving nature and wildlife, helping to tackle climate change and managing the UK’s distinctive landscapes,” he said.
“This is why it is so important that ministers provide reassurance that securing the best deal for food, farming and forestry will be a high priority.”
The joint briefing sets out the five objectives for a trade policy which the organisations believe will allow farmers, foresters and rural businesses to compete on an international platform.
These include opening new markets, growing existing ones and delivering the best deals for UK consumers. Equipping businesses to compete by providing the skills knowledge and required for the sectors to flourish also played a key role.
The document also called for means of improving farming and forestry resilience, claiming that trading in a global marketplace could bring risks through the impacts of climate change and changing geopolitical situations.