Britain has ended its long Brexit journey, and has fully left the EU, after the transition period ended on 31 December. On 24 December, the two parties agreed a trade deal – the EU UK Trade & Co-operation Agreement – meaning many businesses can continue trading without tariffs.
The trade deal is welcome news for British farmers, who had feared a no-deal exit and the tariffs that would have come with it. On fresh poultrymeat, no-deal tariffs would have been a crippling 192%.
The UK exports 19% of its total volume of poultry produced, according to NFU figures. 70% of British poultrymeat exports go to the EU, worth £192 million in 2019. Most of this is dark meat, as UK poultry consumers have a strong preference for breast meat. Any curtailing of this trade would lead to an oversupply in the domestic market and bring down the overall price producers are paid for a whole bird.
Best possible outcome
It is clear the trade deal is the best possible outcome for both the poultrymeat and egg sectors. The UK egg industry produced 11.4 billion eggs in 2019, according to the Lion scheme. Provisional figures show the UK exported 271 million eggs and imported 1.7 billion, meaning tariffs would have also affected egg businesses.
However, while there is tariff-free access for some products, other poultry products will no longer be able to be exported at all. This is due to the UK’s new status as a third country. The EU places blanket restrictions on certain imports and exports from third party countries, which will affect the poultry sector.
Frozen poultry mince, chilled poultry mince, mechanically separated poultry meat and ungraded eggs will not be able to be exported to the EU, Defra has confirmed.
Ungraded eggs are eggs that have not gone into a packing plant, either because they go straight to the food industry, or have yet to go to the packing plant to be graded. Eggs delivered directly to the food industry come from the primary producer and are ungraded. Primary producers are unable to be registered establishments for the purposes of sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) certification and there is no model certificate for ungraded eggs.
Third country status
The information about these new restrictions based on third country status was set out by environment secretary George Eustice in a letter on 10 December sent to trade bodies and key agri-businesses.
Third countries also have to comply with the EU’s requirements for export health certificates (EHCs) and phytosanitary certificates. These additional layers of bureaucracy and red tape is causing huge concern to British poultry companies.
Chris Kirke, chief executive of Moy Park, Ranjit Singh, chief executive of 2 Sisters Food Group, and Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, were among the signatories of a letter to George Eustice which said that British firms were at a severe competitive disadvantage due to the new requirement to complete an Export Health Certificate for every single delivery of animal origin product to the EU and exports could fall significantly in response.
In their letter to the Secretary of State they said the Government must step in to simplify the export process.
“First, we want Government to instruct, and financially support, all Official Veterinarians employed directly or indirectly by the Food Standards Agency or other government agency to play a direct role in supporting the export certification process for products of animal origin.
“By comparison, food companies in other European countries have the distinct advantage of having their export certification completed as part of the service to businesses provided by the FSA’s European counterparts.
“Second, we want Government to use the authority of Animal and Plant Health Agency to significantly simplify the guidance on how official veterinarians at the last point of departure before export can rely on existing controls as the basis for having confidence to certify the products for export.
“Third, we want Government to revise the rules on what inspection and verification must be done by an Official Veterinarian, and what can be done by an appropriately trained and supervised Certification Support Officer.
“Unless Government now steps in with these robust interventions, we may have gone beyond the point that these issues can be fixed and a significant loss of business for the meat industry may now be inevitable.”
Hopes for Global Britain
However, the Government is pushing ahead with its strategy of Global Britain. It has already signed agreements with 60 countries to carry over trading terms Britain had as a member of the EU. One big deal to get over the line in 2021 is a US trade deal.
Independent economist Sean Rickard has set out how the industry can best respond to the post-Brexit world, with Britain positioned as a global trading nation.
As discussed in last month’s PB, Rickard said high welfare and ecological sustainability will partly determine the success of British food products in markets around the world.
Success will depend partly on raising standards by researching and adopting improved safety procedures and animal welfare systems, as well as enhancing the conditions and careers for all engaged in the industry. It will also mean improving international competitiveness in order to take advantage of the global opportunities offered by a large and rapidly growing aspirational demographic, while simultaneously increasing domestic self-sufficiency and food security.
Britain is now fully independent from the EU. The trade deal will ensure continuity of trade for many businesses. But the full effects of Brexit, including the promised benefits of new trade deals, and the difficulties of complying with new frictions of border checks, will not be properly known for quite some time.
Brexit immigration policy will hit food sector, MPs warn
Now the UK has left the EU it can and has set its own immigration policy, ending free movement that was a condition of EU membership.
While this is welcome for many Brexit supporters, it poses challenges for the British food industry, which up until now has relied heavily on EU nationals to staff food processing factories and farms.
Before Christmas, MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee published a new report with its conclusions to its Labour in the Food Supply Chain inquiry. In it, the MPs warn that the Government’s plans to restrict UK food producers’ access to workers from Europe risks undermining their competitiveness, as they haven’t been given time to adapt. It recommends the Government changes its immigration policy. Given Priti Patel’s bold plans for a points-based system, and the huge media coverage the news has received, a climbdown is highly unlikely.
What is clear is the UK food and farming industries face dramatic changes now Freedom of Movement has ended as of 31 December.
The EFRA Committee report acknowledging that the change provides employment opportunities for British workers, but says changes should be made to smooth the transition. It recommends the following:
- Defra should monitor the impact of the changes on food prices and imports and the Government should quickly adapt their policy if it becomes clear that it is undermining British business’ competitiveness or the UK’s food security.
- Government support for re-skilling and re-training British workers for the new opportunities within the food supply chain. The Committee also calls on Defra to urgently publish a new strategy detailing how it will support farmers and food producers to develop and make affordable the new technologies the Government hopes will replace a proportion of the sector’s labour force.
- The Government should follow its own Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations to place critical roles such as veterinary nurses, meat hygiene inspectors and butchers on the Shortage Occupation List.
Neil Parish MP, Chair of the EFRA Committee, said: “Leaving the EU means that the food supply sector will need to be weaned off its reliance on European workers. This could be a great opportunity for UK workers in the long-term, if employers are forced to improve pay and conditions. But this will take time.
“By leaving its plans vague and not having the proper figures to hand, the Government is effectively turning off the tap for employers, without giving them time to adapt. Many businesses are now facing a cliff-edge with no clear plan about how to move forwards. If British farmers and food producers can’t get the workers they need, we all risk higher food prices or more cheap imports produced to standards we wouldn’t tolerate here.
“This transition needs to be properly managed, with appropriate provisions made to prepare British businesses- many of whom have already had an extremely hard year. I urge the Government to reflect on this and be ready to adapt their policy in response to the impact it has.”