UK: Food industry welcomes Brexit progress but warns of “mountain of work” ahead


18 Dec 2017 --- The European Council and British Prime Minister Theresa May have finally agreed to move onto phase two of Brexit talks after long negotiations which comes as some consolation for the food industry just in time for Christmas. Late last week, the 27 leaders of member states agreed to move onto the second phase of Brexit talks which now means that the UK’s future relationships with the bloc can now be addressed but negotiations can only really start next March.

In draft guidelines, the EU has now acknowledged Britain’s desire to quit the Single Market and the Customs Union. However, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that he would like a future deal to “look as much like the current relationships as possible,” although he recognizes that other member states may disagree. 

The UK Food and Drinks Federation has been lobbying government for some time on Brexit, calling for clarity on future trade deals and assurances that the many sub-sectors that make up Britain’s £112 billion (US$148 billion) “farm to fork” food chain that employs almost four million people will not be negatively affected post-Brexit. 

FDF Director General Ian Wright CBE has reacted to the latest Brexit update with a reminder that there is still a long way to go. 

“It is great news that the European Council has agreed to progress talks to phase two. We welcome the immense efforts of both sides,” he says. “But there is a mountain of work ahead. While our valued EU workers have some comfort for Christmas over their future status, we want to see a binding guarantee and for Government to deliver on their promise to create a simple online registration system.”

“Also on FDF's wishlist to Father Christmas is a speedy agreement of a status quo transition period, a special solution for Ireland, and securing a comprehensive trade deal with the EU which protects all the benefits and ease of trading we currently enjoy.”

Today’s end deal discussions
Later today (December 18) Theresa May will talk with her Brexit cabinet to discuss what the UK’s relationship with the European Union should look like after March 2019. The Prime Minister is expected to tell the senior MPs that the UK wants to sign trade deals during an implementation period. 

The cabinet will prepare for the UK’s future independent trade policy with a view to signing possible trade deals with third countries.

Meanwhile, the EU’s guidelines for phase two have been published which also state that March is the month when long-term trade talks and the future economic cooperation will begin, but there has also been mention of possible internal preparatory discussions on future relations that can happen in advance. 

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has already stated there is no way Britain will be able to “cherry pick” and secure its very own bespoke deal with the EU. 

Last week Theresa May lost a key Brexit vote in the House of Commons following a rebellion by 11 Conservative MPs. The result means that Parliament has been given a legal guarantee of a vote on the final Brexit deal struck with Brussels, which May had argued could jeopardize chances of delivering a smooth departure from the EU.

Risk of “dirty” turkey after Brexit if UK strikes a US trade deal
Meanwhile, the possibility that Britain is open to trading more with third countries has prompted speculation about the potential for the UK to import US turkeys which may not currently meet EU safety standards. 

A new briefing paper by leading food policy experts from the University of Sussex, Cardiff University and City, University of London, found that US poultry, washed in up to four chemical disinfectants, does not meet EU safety standards. The academics also found the chemicals are used in the US to wash fruit, vegetables and fish.

They warn that it would be safer if the UK kept European Union standards and say future controls should be “stricter, not weaker.”

Professors Erik Millstone (University of Sussex), Tim Lang (City, University of London) and Terry Marsden (Cardiff University) compared current UK and EU standards with those in the US and concluded that the use of chemical disinfectants by the US food industry posed risks to consumers and workers in the industry.

The question of whether the UK would import chlorine-washed meat after Brexit was raised when US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross warned that a post-Brexit UK-US trade deal would require that the UK abandoned EU standards.

However, it is still very early to be debating safety controls and standards on deals which have not even happened yet. The UK government openly admits to wanting to attract deals with third countries outside of the EU, but there is still a very long way to go before those potential deals come into play. 

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