Brexit poses massive threat to agri-trade warn farm leaders
The UK's decision to walk away from the European Union may throw billions of pounds worth of agriculture trade into question as politicians prepare for a lengthy wrangle over future policy.
The EU is the biggest customer for UK food and drink exports, with last year's sales valued at £8.9bn (€10.6bn), according to the Food and Drink Federation. Britain is also a major importer from countries including the Netherlands, France, Ireland and Germany.
Concerns are being raised across Europe as refining existing policies may be lengthy and difficult. The UK has two years to negotiate its exit and nobody knows yet what type of trade deals will be secured. While a weaker pound would make exports of UK products including grains more attractive, German farm cooperatives' group DRV warned on Friday that Brexit could lead to a patchwork trade policy in Europe that might have "far-reaching, negative consequences" for exports.
"Trade is the most urgent and most obvious issue," said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Brussels-based farm lobby group Copa and Cogeca. "The last thing we need is another element of uncertainty. There are very strong economic links between the British Isles and continental Europe, and severing those business relationships would be serious for everybody."
One concern is investment in UK agriculture, which will probably stall until trade and farming policies are clarified, said Allan Buckwell, an economist and emeritus professor from Imperial College London.
"Huge uncertainty" will remain in the markets for at least a year, farmland prices may drop and costs of imported machinery and fertilizers may rise, he said.
Meurig Raymond, president of Britain's National Farmers' Union, said there are concerns about renegotiating trade deals and securing labour in an industry which partly relies on workers from Eastern Europe.