Failure to secure strong trade opportunities for agricultural products will put UK food security and the environment at risk, according to the organisations that represent landowners, farmers and rural businesses.
Scottish Land & Estates, which represents land-based businesses in Scotland, and the CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses in England and Wales have today published a new 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.
David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: "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. This won’t be easy and there is a history of agriculture and forestry being ignored or treated as a low priority when trade deals are negotiated.
However, Mr Johnstone went on to point out that Scottish and UK farmers and foresters produce food, drink and wood products of very high quality and within stringent welfare and environmental standards. This enables them to compete with the best in the world on quality and puts them in a position to take advantage of many new opportunities.
He warned that “There are serious consequences if we don’t get this right though. 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. Without strong markets many farmers and foresters could go out of business, which has consequences for their stewardship of the land and the environment and the additional public benefits that delivers.
“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. This is why it is so important that Government Ministers provide reassurance that securing the best deal for food, farming and forestry will be a high priority."
The briefing published today sets out the five objectives for a trade policy that will allow farmers, foresters and rural businesses to compete on an international platform:
- Opening new markets: Ministers must ensure that wherever new trade deals are struck, they are creating opportunity for food producers and manufacturers and forestry businesses.
- Growing existing markets at home and abroad: Discussions with the EU must negotiate the best possible access to the EU market for our food, wood and drink products.
- Delivering the best deals for UK consumers: The right balance must be struck between maximising opportunity for people to buy and consume food grown, reared and manufactured in the UK as well as allowing opportunity to buy the best of produce from around the world.
- Equipping businesses to compete: businesses will need the skills, knowledge and ambition to seek out markets elsewhere in the world.
- Improving farmer and forester resilience: As well as opportunity, trading in a global market place can bring risks through the impacts of climate change and changing geopolitical situations.
The ‘New Opportunities: The case for a trade policy that equips rural businesses to compete in the world’ briefing can be found here.