Meat and livestock sector starts to debate Brexit as referendum authorised

By Alan Osborn

- Last updated on GMT

The referendum would have to be staged by 31 December 2017
The referendum would have to be staged by 31 December 2017

Related tags Eu International trade European union

In or out? Like every UK voter, the meat and livestock industry has two-and-a-half years to decide whether its future is better with Britain remaining in the European Union (EU) – or outside it.

To re-cap:

The UK parliament on 9 June overwhelmingly approved an EU Referendum Bill published on 28 May, which will authorise giving voters a straight question to answer: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’ Votes will be restricted to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens aged 18 and over who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals resident overseas for less than 15 years. It means Gibraltar, Maltese and Cypriots resident in the UK will get a vote, but other EU citizens will not.

The referendum would have to be staged by 31 December 2017. A government statement stressed that "ahead of the referendum, the Prime Minister will discuss with EU leaders how the UK can work with partners to reform the EU and renegotiate our relationship with it."

Meat industry executives questioned by GlobalMeatNews​ are already concerned.: "The UK relationship with the EU is a massively important issue and we must have an open and balanced debate about that relationship, so that we come to the right decision," said Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA). "We don’t have a formal position at present. We want to consider it…,"​ Rossides told GlobalMeatNews​.

Similarly, Jean-Luc Mériaux, secretary general of the European Livestock & Meat Trades Union (UECBV) said that while the union "has not yet taken any formal position on the UK issue and its impact on the business in the livestock and meat sector"​ it "will be consulting with members…".

Meanwhile, the International Meat Trade Association (IMTA) voiced some potential negative implications: "Our members’ day-to-day business involves the import from and export to non-EU countries. It is thus heavily influenced by EU import duties and quotas as well as market access for our exports through Free Trade Agreements and we would certainly question the UK’s ability to negotiate Free Trade Agreements alone,"​ said Liz Murphy, IMTA’s CEO. "This could mean paying sizeable duties to export meat to the EU. Where around 50% of UK sheepmeat exports go to France, this could have considerable negative impacts for the trade,"​ she told GlobalMeatNews.

Murphy wondered if the UK might end up like Switzerland, which enacts a large part of EU legislation but lacks the right to shape it. "These are some of the questions that we will be discussing amongst our membership in the coming months and we hope that political parties will also drill down to the practical aspects that could affect our economy,"​ she said.

The same considerations were expressed by the UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU). "In general terms and purely from an agricultural sense, then of course British farmers would be better off inside the EU,"​ said Martin Haworth, deputy director general of the NFU. "If we were outside the EU we would either lose our export markets to Europe… or we would have to follow rules which we would have no influence over and there would be a serious risk we would have to compete against other European farmers who would continue to have support while we would have none,"​ Haworth said.

But a strikingly different view was given by Norman Bagley, head of policy at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), which represents small and medium-sized abattoirs in the independent red meat sector. "If we were to leave the EU I don’t see any downside in trade at all. I don’t see them putting any tariffs in place because they export more to us than we do to them,"​ he said. Exports today were governed by standards set by the receiving country "and whether they come from the EU or anywhere else, I don’t really see it being dissimilar from what we’ve got now,"​ he said.

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