Following the creation of the new Department for International Trade and the appointment of Liam Fox, MP for North Somerset as Secretary of State, the full list of ministerial responsibilities for the department was announced last week and it is of concern that there appears to be no direct reference to agriculture in any of the new ministerial portfolios.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has raised concerns about this, pointing out that failure to secure strong trade opportunities for agricultural products will put UK food security and the environment at risk.
The concern is that agriculture will be treated as a low priority in trade talks or may even be excluded from international trade negotiations.
In response to this the CLA has published a briefing which explores the opportunities for agriculture and forestry trade outside the EU and also sets out the risks if trade declines substantially following Brexit.
CLA Director General Helen Woolley said: "Leaving the EU can be an opportunity for businesses across the countryside. We have great entrepreneurs and great products. If the conditions are right we will thrive. But those conditions will not come about without careful planning and tough negotiations.
"Nowhere is that more the case than in agriculture. It is notoriously difficult to establish open trade deals for farming products. It is seriously alarming that no Government minister has been given specific responsibility to deliver it. We now seek urgent reassurance that the Government will deliver for our farmers and rural producers. We expect the Department for International Trade to start working together with us straight away and this is a terrible start.
“There are serious consequences if we don’t get this right. We could see food prices rising and the nation’s food security may be compromised. The environment could start to suffer and many farms and manufacturers could go out of business.
“Farmers and other food producers want to provide the country with a safe, secure supply of food. Land managers want to carry on their good work improving nature and wildlife, helping to tackle climate change and managing the UK’s distinctive landscapes. This is why it is so important that ministers assure us all that securing the best deal for food and farming will be a high priority and not an afterthought in their trade negotiations.”
The CLA briefing sets out the five objectives for a trade policy that will allow UK farmers and rural businesses to compete on an international platform. These include:
• Opening new markets
• Growing existing markets at home and abroad
• Delivering the best deals for UK consumers
• Equipping businesses to compete
• Improving farmer resilience
However, it seems unlikely many of these goals will be achieved if there is not high level representation fighting for British Agriculture in forthcoming international trade negotiations.
James is a partner who heads up Carter Jonas’ South West rural operation, managing the teams in the four offices of Marlborough, Bath, Taunton and Truro. He primarily works out of the Taun...