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Brexit must maintain agri-food trade

Brexit challenges

NFU Deputy President Guy Smith explains why a free trade area for agri-food products between the EU and the UK is vital for the farming sector.

Farming is changing. In all the talk of technology shaping society, some might have assumed that farming would have been untouched by this rapid pace of change. But there has been revolution and evolution in the fields of Britain: an agricultural revolution and a food evolution.

Farming as an industry is very important to this country. With Brexit looming, it is a time of enormous significance, which will be felt in our fields and farms more keenly than at any other time.

Brexit is of course still the word on everyone’s lips and it remains the core part of the NFU’s work. For our organisation, there is no bigger priority than making sure food is at the forefront of the debate.

We know the British public rightly expects high welfare, safe, affordable food that can be traced back to British farms. We want to keep delivering on those things. We see them as a public good – as important as anything that society can provide.

But as the current hot, dry weather conditions continue and the prospect of a diminished harvest vividly demonstrates - the challenge of food production in the future is not likely to get easier for British farmers. It is also a timely reminder that the Government here should not take food production for granted. Farming is one of the most affected industries when it comes to managing volatility.

The latest Brexit White Paper sets out the Government’s detailed plans for negotiating the future relationship with the EU. It explains how that relationship would work, what benefits it would deliver for both sides, and why it would respect the sovereignty of the UK as well as the autonomy of the EU. The paper runs to over 100 pages and is laid out across a number of chapters.

The NFU has long-maintained that free and frictionless trade between the EU and UK is crucial for food and farming. If British farmers are to continue playing their part in providing high-quality and affordable food to the British public, as well as delivering for the environment, the principle of a free trade area for goods, including agri-food, is vital for our sector.

It is our sector’s hope that we maintain the high levels of trade in agricultural goods between the UK and the EU, our largest market for agri-food products.

British farmers produce food to some of the highest production and animal welfare standards in the world and we are pleased to see that the Government intends to maintain these standards as part of a deal.

It is imperative that the UK’s independent trade policy does not seek to undermine those standards and establishing a close relationship with Europe will enable those standards to be continued.

Farmers also welcome any additional clarity on what the Government’s plan for our future trading relationship will be. It is our sector’s hope that we maintain the high levels of trade in agricultural goods between the UK and the EU, our largest market for agri-food products.

While the government has committed to ending free movement of people, there must be recognition of the importance of both seasonal and permanent workers from outside of the UK that help farms to continue producing food for the nation.

The food and farming industry continues to urge the Government to proceed with an immigration policy that is based on fact and business need, reflecting the importance of these workers to our food and farming sector.

We call on the UK Government and the European Commission to work urgently to achieve an agreement on trade and we look forward to working with both in the ongoing negotiations.

Brexit provides us, as farmers, with a real opportunity to deliver more to Britain and to demonstrate the offer and the contribution we make – to the economy and to the health of the British people.

Farmers have been fantastic advocates for change and are constantly adapting their businesses to deal with the challenges they face every day, such as the weather. We need Government policies that invest in our sector and to support the vital work of farmers as food producers. We look forward to working with ministers and MPs of all parties to create an environment where farms can continue to deliver food the nation trusts, while continuing our work as custodians of the iconic British countryside. 

Guy Smith

Farms a mixed and diversified family farm

St Osyth, near Clacton-on-sea, north-east Essex



Guy served for eight years on the NFU Council as the Essex delegate, four years as a member of the Governance Board and six years as Chair of the NFU Communications Group. He served as NFU Vice President for two years before becoming Deputy President in 2018. Guy is a founder of the Essex Schools Food and Farming Day and a past Chairman of the Landskills New Entrants Committee. He is a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Society and recipient of an Honorary Doctorate for services to agriculture from Essex University.

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