One year countdown: is the meat industry any clearer on Brexit?

By Ashley Williams

- Last updated on GMT

Questions still need to be answered regarding Brexit
Questions still need to be answered regarding Brexit
Today marks the 365-day countdown for the UK’s departure from the European Union and it seems that time is really of the essence for the meat industry.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May today pledged that the UK would become “strong and united​” after Brexit as she ties up last-minute deals on EU-UK trade.

However, Brexit has brought a great deal of uncertainty to the meat sector and, according to the International Meat Association, the industry is still far from knowing what the future UK-EU trade relationship will be.

Katie Doherty, policy director for the International Meat Trade Association, said the meat sector could be facing 50-60% tariffs on beef and sheep meat exports to the EU.

What formalities companies currently trading intra-EU will face at the UK-EU border are still unclear,​” said Doherty. “As stated by the European Commission in its notice to stakeholders on European Food Law in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the Commission’s position is that UK exports to the EU27 will face veterinary inspection as any other third country does today​.”

Frictionless border

Doherty believes that this doesn’t square with UK government aspirations for a “frictionless border​”.

Welsh sheep meat exports to France will need to be accompanied by a veterinary certificate and will face documentary, seal and physical checks upon entry to France​,” Doherty added.

UK meat exports would have to enter via a Border Inspection Post ​[and] there isn’t one at Calais. In this scenario, UK exports would need to be diverted via Rotterdam, which has the appropriate facilities in place and, as we understand it, is ramping up to be able to cope with increased demand for checks by hiring additional staff​.”

Assurance in global supply chains is also a worrying factor for the meat industry, as NFU Mutual research revealed that only one in 10 people have confidence in a global supply chain.

Upset concerning the prospect of widespread cheaper GM foods and chlorinated chicken from the US are examples of outcries that represent the naturally high standards of UK consumers, who have been reasonably sheltered from these practices for many years​,” said NFU Mutual’s food and drink manufacturing specialist Darren Seward.

Appetite for British-grown produce

International meats are declining among British consumers who seem to prefer home-grown produce.

Further research from NFU Mutual revealed that 99% of consumers would buy more British food if retailers made it available to them and almost half (49%) considered products to be ‘most British’ when the ingredients are grown here.

British food also has its advantages through a shorter and better regulated supply chain that may be more manageable and less likely to be susceptible to fraud​,” Seward added.

Of course it is not possible for everything to be grown here and there are challenges with how the entire food industry would be supported to cope with such demand, but at least it is promising that there is an appetite for British-produced goods among consumers​.”

Meat businesses want to see action on their long-term futures and, with the clock ticking and limited resolutions within a two-year period, the UK prime minister should certainly be feeling the pressure after making so many verbal promises.

Can she keep those agreements? Only time will tell.

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