UK post-Brexit advisory groups warns against divergence from existing EU food standards

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: iStock/CharlieAJA
Image: iStock/CharlieAJA

Related tags Brexit Food and drink federation Standards

Three advisory groups have warned the UK government that moving away from European food standards post-Brexit risks diminishing choice and value for consumers.

A report​ by the Food and Drink Roundtable, Brexit Livestock Group, and Brexit Arable Group, has given its recommendations for the government's future trade policy after leaving the bloc. It advises that “careful thought should be given to the benefits and costs of choosing to move away”​ from the EU’s existing “technical standards​”. The groups also call for businesses to be given “time to adapt”​ to changes created by new free trade agreements (FTAs).

“Non-tariff barriers are a serious impediment to food and drink trade,”​ said the report, “so the UK’s negotiating objective should be to minimise the impact on our exports of any non-tariff barriers arising from regulatory difference with all countries (e.g. SPS checks). Addressing these issues is central to the success of any FTA for the food and drink sector.”

The report said regulatory autonomy is “welcome​” but added that “careful thought should be given to the benefits and costs of choosing to move away from these technical standards. Erosion of existing integrated supply chains risks damaging our ability to develop and compete in other markets in future and to deliver the choice and quality UK consumer and shoppers demand.”

Striking a balance between ‘competing priorities’ to ensure standards

The US is reportedly optimistic about agreeing a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK this year, but the details remain limited. The UK's environment minister, Theresa Villiers, has though ruled out ending current EU bans including those on chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef.

The report urged negotiators to strike a balance between “competing priorities”​  to ensure the “continued availability of high quality, safe food at a range of price points to suit consumer and shopper demand”.

It also observed that non-tariff barriers to trade pose a “serious impediment”​ to food and drink freight. The report noted that new independent deals with others represented an opportunity for the UK to build on the existing “completely free and frictionless trade”​ that it already enjoys with other countries. For the food and agricultural sector, “this will require a clear approach to balancing the potential of new trade agreements with the possibility of new tariff or non-tariff barriers in trade with the EU, which is by an overwhelming margin both our largest market and our largest supplier,”​ it stated, adding: “Our vision is for a future UK trade policy which will drive growth, promote efficiency and stimulate innovation, while providing consumers and shoppers with even greater choice and better value.”

Rules of Origin

The report also urged UK negotiators against making concessions on Rules of Origin. “The UK food and drink sector is unusual in its tendency to use a mixture of imported and home-produced ingredients in manufactured foods,” ​it wrote.

“Therefore, in all negotiations, and especially the one with the EU, the UK should seek accommodating Rules of Origin that are tailored to meet the needs of our industry. Product specific detail is crucial, but as a minimum any transformation which brings about a change in chapter heading should be sufficient to confirm UK origin.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Accommodating Rules of Origin​ and ensuring they are tailored to meet the needs of the industry;
  • Giving business time to adapt​ to changes in competitive positioning arising from the creation of new trade agreements;
  • Thought being given to the benefits and costs of choosing to move away from existing regulatory technical standards​;
  • Encouraging job creation and value addition​ in every region of the UK by prioritising agri-food;
  • Retaining the UK's ability to deliver high standards at competitive consumer prices​; and
  • Encouraging sustainable food production​, while diminishing environmental impacts.

Ian Wright, chair of Food and Drink Roundtable and FDF’s chief executive, said: “The food and drink industry is absolutely committed to working with Government and the devolved administrations on the development of more detailed plans and practical solutions for our vital industry as we leave the EU.

“No industry is more uniquely placed to deliver the benefits of trade to every UK community. Together our supply chain produces, packages, distributes and sells a wide range of food and drink at every price point, more than ever before, in every corner of the UK.”

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