MPs have warned of possible “serious disruption to supply chains” in the food sector following Brexit.
In a report on Brexit and food trade, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said any change in trade arrangements “has implications for the smooth movement of goods between the EU and the UK”.
“Delays at border inspection posts lead to increased costs and are a threat to perishable goods,” said the report.
“It is imperative that the government sets out how it intends to ensure that the right IT systems and infrastructure are in place for the import and export of agricultural produce so that businesses can continue to trade smoothly with Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, and the rest of the world.”
The report said 30% of food consumed in the UK was imported from the EU, while the EU is the UK’s single largest trading partner in agri-food products, accounting for 60% of exports and 70% of imports.
MPs said in the absence of a trade deal with the EU, the UK would revert to WTO rules and they suggested two scenarios: “fortress UK”, where WTO tariffs are applied to imports, and trade liberalisation, where there are low or no tariffs on imports.
The report said fortress UK would result in higher costs for importers. It has been estimated that consumer beef and cheese prices could rise by up to 30%, tomatoes by up to 18% and broccoli by up to 10%. However, this could also result in import substitution and provide an opportunity for British products.
The report said trade liberalisation, on the other hand, risked a rise in cheap, lower welfare imports that could have a “devastating effect” on UK farmers, who work to higher standards, putting many out of business and rendering the UK dependent on imported food.
MPs are calling for greater clarity from the government on its long-term vision and how it will deal with regulatory diversion, along with a sector by sector breakdown of the impact from Brexit. They said consideration should be given to setting up a fund to protect the sector after the UK leaves the EU.
Committee chair Neil Parish said: “60% of the UK’s agricultural exports and 70% of its imports are from the EU. In order to safeguard the livelihoods of UK farmers and guarantee domestic food security post-Brexit, it is vital that the government articulates its vision for protecting both. The first step in this process is creating an analysis of each farming sector before bringing the Agriculture Bill before Parliament.
“It is crucial that the government takes positive political action towards new trading relationships as a matter of priority.
“We should under no circumstances compromise on our world-renowned animal welfare, environmental, and food standards. Brexit should be an opportunity to improve, not undermine, our global reputation for quality.”
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