Farming groups nervously await fallout from historic decision

‘Leave’ campaigners on the Thames last week
‘Leave’ campaigners on the Thames last week

Whitney McFerron

The UK's Brexit decision 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 (excluding alcohol) valued at €11bn. Britain is also a major importer from EU countries.

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," Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Brussels-based farm lobby group Copa & Cogeca, said.

"The last thing we need is more 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. Huge uncertainty will remain in the markets for at least a year, farm-land prices may drop and costs of imported machinery and fertilisers may rise.

Leaving the EU poses both challenges and opportunities for the UK fishing industry, which may seek to renegotiate catch quotas with the EU.

The group Fishermen For Leave, which gained notoriety last week after Ukip leader Nigel Farage joined it on a flotilla on the River Thames, has criticised the EU's Common Fisheries Policy as damaging to the industry by allowing vessels from other countries to fish in British waters.

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